Genesis 12 & the Exodus

In a sense, Genesis 12 foreshadows the Exodus. After Abram got Sarai to agree to lie about her relationship with him, they entered Egypt. As expected, she is taken into Pharaoh’s palace, and as expected:

12:16 – It went well for Abram. He gained flocks and cattle, male and female servants, donkeys, and camels.

God strikes Pharaoh and his people, and then at the end of the chapter:

12:20 – Pharaoh commanded his men concerning Abram, and they sent him out with his wife and all his possessions.

Through human compromise and sin and because of the broken world — famine, in this case — the people of God go down to Egypt, and through trickery, they plunder the Egyptians.

Hebrew text

What’s Genesis 1 About?

This evening I asked Beau, my four year old, if he would like me to read a chapter of the Bible to him. He was a bit reluctant to agree to a whole chapter, but he curled up in my lap anyway.

He listened to the first ten or fifteen verses and then interrupted me:

So this is about God, huh?

That was completely unprovoked and out of the blue and spot on more than he knows.

“Genesis” in Matthew 1:1

Over at the Koinonia blog, Bill Mounce posted about the word γένεσις in Matthew 1:1: Βίβλος γενέσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ υἱοῦ Δαυὶδ υἱοῦ Ἀβραάμ. How should the word be translated? After surveying the options, Mounce concludes,

Context strongly favors the second option, “Record of the Origins” (so Blomberg). Greek gives us the range of possibilities; context makes the determination.

That is a fine translation, but many interpreters hear more in Matthew’s opening verse than an introduction to Jesus’ genealogy or Matthew’s prologue. It is important to note that a form of “genesis” also appears in Matthew 19:28, where Jesus promises that in the “new genesis” (παλιγγενεσίᾳ), the twelve disciples will sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Here, the word seems to mean something like “new creation” and calls to mind the first book of the Old Testament.

Does Matthew intend for his readers to think of Genesis as they read the first verse of his Gospel? There are many connections between the First Gospel and the first book of the Bible. Jonathan Pennington concisely summarizes a number of them:

There are the obvious quotations [of Genesis] in Matthew 19:4-5 and 22:24. Additionally, the work of the Holy Spirit in 1:18-20 and 3:16 harkens back to the Spirit’s activity at creation. Reference to the beloved son in 3:17 recalls Isaac, the son Abraham loves in Gen 22. References to Abraham also appear several times in Matthew (1:1-2; 3:9; 8:11; 22:32) as do Sodom (10:15) and the “days of Noah” (24:37). Also significant is the three-fold allusion to the Cain and Abel story (Gen 4:1-16) in Matthew (5:21-25; 18:21-22; 23:34-36). The uncommon word παλιγγενεσία in 19:28 connects with Genesis and affirms a new creation eschatological outlook. One may also see a probable allusion to the pre-creation darkness of Gen 1:2 in Matthew 27:54, where the whole earth/land is covered with darkness at Jesus’ death. There is also a strong link in 28:18-19, completing the mention of Abraham in 1:1. (Pennington, Heaven and Earth, 213-214)

In light of these connections, some prefer to read Matthew 1:1 with an eye to the broader theological perspective of the Gospel (e.g., Warren Carter, Ulrich Luz, Davies and Allison, Pennington). This makes the translator’s task very difficult, if not impossible. Mounce’s suggested translation is fine, but hardly any translation is able to carry over the functional ambiguity and multivalent nature of γένεσις in Matthew 1:1. One can’t help but wonder whether Matthew might have intended to communicate that with the advent of Jesus, the story of God’s people was being rewritten. Perhaps he thought of his Gospel as a new Genesis.

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References: Dale Allison, Jr., “Matthew’s First Two Words” in Studies in Matthew (Baker Academic, 2005), 157-162; Jonathan T. Pennington Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew (Baker Academic, 2009) 211-216; Ulrich Luz, “A New Story of Jesus or a Rewritten One,” in Studies in Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005)  18-36; Warren Carter, “Matthew and the Gentiles: Individual Conversion and/or Systemic Transformation,” JSNT 26.3 (2004)

Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible as a Reference Work

Sometimes a different description, new terminology, is all it takes for understanding to click. This is one reason I find it helpful to turn to the Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible (LDHB) as a reference tool. As I read Genesis 41:39 recently, I was puzzled by the use of אחרי. After looking over the entries in BDB and HALOT, it still wasn’t clear how the phrase introduced by this word was functioning in the sentence. Here is Genesis 41:39 in BHS and in the LDHB:

וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל־יוֹסֵף אַחֲרֵי הוֹדִיעַ אֱלֹהִים אוֹתְךָ אֶת־כָּל־זֹאת אֵין־נָבוֹן וְחָכָם כָּמוֹךָ

This is the way a typical verse looks in the LDHB. Runge and Westbury have marked the discourse features of the text with symbols, as described in the introductory volume.  Note that the entire second line is surrounded with the symbols [TM … TM]. This marks אחרי הודיע אלהים אותך את־כל־זאת as a “temporal frame.” Hovering your mouse over one of the TM symbols displays the name and a concise definition of this discourse feature:

[TMTemporal framesTM]: the fronting of time-related information to establish a specific time frame for the clause that follows.

This description helps me understand why אחרי is commonly translated “since.” The term “temporal frame” clicks. The prepositional phrase introduced by אחרי (usually rendered as a dependent clause in English) describes the circumstances that led Pharaoh to draw his conclusion concerning Joseph: “there is no one as discerning and wise as you.” The flow of thought could be paraphrased like this: “After God made known to you all this, surely we must conclude that there is no one as discerning and wise as you.” The statement in the last half of the verse is inferred from what has just taken place.

This is one example of how you might integrate the LDHB into your workflow. After reading the Introduction included in the Lexham Discourse Hebrew Bible Bundle, you will be able to use the LDHB as a complement to your other secondary sources–grammars, commentaries, etc. Many thanks to Logos for sending me a gratis copy for review.

Related Post: Redundant Quotative Frames in Jonah

Echoes of Cain in the Story of Jonah

There are few verbal connections between the story of Jonah and Genesis 4.
In Jonah 2:5, from the belly of the whale Jonah cries, “I am driven out from before your eyes!” (נִגְרַשְׁתִּימִנֶּגֶדעֵינֶיךָ). This echoes the complaint of Cain in Genesis 4:14: “Hey! You have driven me today from before the face of the land and from you I will be hidden!” (הֵןגֵּרַשְׁתָּאֹתִיהַיּוֹםמֵעַלפְּנֵיהָאֲדָמָהוּמִפָּנֶיךָאֶסָּתֵר). When Jonah sees that Nineveh has repented and God has relented from destroying the people, the text says, “It seemed an exceedingly great evil to Jonah, and he became angry” (וַיִּחַרלוֹ Jon 4:1ֹ, see also Jon 4:4, 9). After God rejected Cain’s sacrifice, the text says, “Cain became exceedingly angry” (וַיִּחַרלְקַיִןמְאֹד Gen 4:5). A few more: Just as God confronts Cain with a question after his crime (Gen 4:9), so also God confronts Jonah with a question in Jonah 4:4. In both stories God, at some point, confronts the antagonist with the issue of “doing good” (אִם־תֵּיטִיב Gen 4:7 ; הַהֵיטֵב Jon 4:4, 9). Finally, both Jonah and Cain “settled to the east of” (וַיֵּשֶׁבבְּאֶרֶץ־נוֹדקִדְמַת־עֵדֶן Gen 4:16 ; וַיֵּשֶׁבמִקֶדֶםלָעִיר Jon 4:5). What is the significance of making a connection between Jonah and Cain? Making the connection at the beginning of Jonah 4 casts another dark shadow over the character of Jonah. If you have entertained any notions—perhaps because of the prayer in chapter 2—that Jonah is the good guy, those thoughts are drowned by the recollection of Cain. Remembering Cain at this point in the story also foreshadows what is to come. Jonah doesn’t recover. Hatred and bitterness have their way with him (Jon 4:9).

I am not claiming that this connection was necessarily intended by the author of Jonah. Whether it was intended or not, making the connection produces a more colorful reading. After all, the characters (Jonah and Cain) are similar in the end.

For other reflections on how we might think of Jonah, see “Jonah the Pharisee” and “Jonah as Disciple“.

1 Enoch 106-108 and the OT: Literary Relationship?

Here is a link to my presentation notes on 1 Enoch 106-108 for our OT colloquium last spring. The majority of the document consists of collections of similar 1 Enoch and OT passages organized according to theme. Feel free to let me know what you think. Nickelsburg’s Hermeneia commentary is the first place to go for info on 1 Enoch. I followed his commentary closely as I prepared for the talk, but the conclusion is my own:

Whether or not there is a literary relationship between Daniel and 1 Enoch 106-107 is tentative at best. Nevertheless, in light of the numerous similarities between 1 Enoch 106-107 and Genesis 5-9 a literary relationship between the these two texts is almost certain. The author of 1 Enoch 106-107 uses the literary world and characters of Genesis 5-9 to communicate his message of future judgment of sinners and reward for the righteous.  The genre of 1 Enoch 106-107 could be described as historical fiction[1] apocalyptically framed. Genesis 5-9 is a (perhaps “the”) key text behind the enochic literature and tradition. Enoch’s ascension into heaven, his escape of death, his heavenly dwelling and presumed divine perspective make him a curious biblical character, one that piques the curiosity of the imaginative reader, perhaps inclining one to ask, “What would Enoch say about this broken world and the suffering that righteous people experience?” Noah serves as a prototypical figure that signals the imminent arrival of both judgment and salvation. The author of 1 Enoch 106-107 uses these two characters to communicate that the world will continue to be filled with wickedness as it was before the flood until a truly righteous generation arises. When the righteous generation arises, the wicked will be wiped away as they were by the flood.

Concerning 1 Enoch 108, the biblical texts with which there are the most notable similarities are NT texts that describe “hell” as a place of fiery torment. 1 Enoch 108 could be dependent upon the NT, or perhaps the author of 1 Enoch 108 and the authors of the NT are independently interpreting the OT concept of Sheol in light a common first century jewish tradition.

[1] à la Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord or Paul Maier’s Pontius Pilate

At the Intersection of Life and Study

Three (mostly) unrelated, practical thoughts.

Coiling

At Educational Resources, we teach students to make vivid mental pictures of the material they read. This concept is foundational to the way we teach reading comprehension. Some time ago, an eleventh grader and I were reading Genesis together. When we came to 4:7, I asked him, “What do you see when you read the words ‘sin is crouching at the door’?”

He said, “I see a snake curled up, ready to strike.”

I’d never made that connection. Very insightful, Mason.

Cursing

Exegesis of Isaiah + a long shift at Olive Garden every Friday and Saturday night = colorful applications of the text.

Last night, this verse came to mind on more than one occasion:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, putting forth darkness for light and light for darkness, putting forth bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. – Isaiah 5:20

If poor tipping is not an example of injustice, then I don’t know what is. With your ink pen, you say to good service, “Evil.” You give bitter wages, and you sour sweet dispositions. There will be judgment. If it’s true that we will give an account of every careless word (Matthew 12:36), how much more every careless deed?

Nevertheless, this isn’t the only sin perpetrated in the fast-paced environment of a Saturday night at the OG. You can read my confession at the end of this post.

Comforting

At church this morning, we sang a song that brought to my mind Jesus’ encouragement for us to “consider the lilies” (Matthew 6:28). The image stuck with me as the lyrics rolled on. I pictured Jesus saying these words, pointing to the blooming flower. When you think about this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, in what tone do you hear Jesus speaking? Granted, the Sermon is not monotone. But here, as he addresses the anxious, how do you picture his eyes? Squinted? Furrowed brow? When we read the Gospels, too often we hear the voice of an irritated Jesus. If you know the least bit about counseling anxious souls, you know that barking logic at them, speaking out of anger and frustration with their weakness, accomplishes nothing good. Surely Jesus, Matthew’s sage, knows this, too.

Someone once said the eyes are a window to the soul. With a smile and bright eyes full of hope, love, and maybe a little amusement, Jesus says, “Consider the lilies! They do nothing but sit there, yet look at how wonderfully the Father takes care of them. Look how he feeds the birds! Aren’t you worth more than birds?! How much more will he take care of you?”

There is a loving God who stands outside both our struggle and the broken world, yet he can relate (John 1:14 ; Hebrews 4:14-16). He sees us as we are and yet provides.

Echoes of Cain in the Prophecy of Isaiah

When I read Isaiah 1, I can’t help but hear echoes of the story of Cain. I’m sure this has everything to do with the fact that I have been thinking and posting about Genesis 3-4 lately. Hear me out, and let me know what you think. First the text, and then an explanation.

Doing and getting “good” (טוב, red text): The context of Isaiah 1:18ff. is similar to that of Genesis 4:6ff. In both passages, God addresses the guilty party. In both passages, the terms of law are stated similarly–the combination of the אִם conditional clause and the טוב root.

Spilling blood (דם, yellow text): In Isaiah 1, the hands of the people of God are said to be “full of blood.” Cain washed the blood off his hands, yet it cried out to the Lord from the ground.

Murder (הרג ,רצח, green text): This makes explicit that the bloody hands of Isaiah 1 are those of a Cain-like, murderous people.

How/Where (אי ,איכה, purple text): The connection here is more clear in Hebrew, but still, some might think it a stretch. To me, this expression resonates with Genesis 4 more loudly than any of the others, besides the טוב connection. In a previous post, I mentioned the similarity between Genesis 3:9 and 4:9. After Adam sinned, the Lord asks, “where are you (איכה)?” After Cain killed his brother, the Lord asks, “Where is Abel (אי הבל)?” So when I hear אי in Genesis 4, I think of איכה in Genesis 3. Though איכה is usually translated “how” in Isaiah 1:21, in light of the previously mentioned connections, when I read איכה in Isaiah 1, I recall the violence of Genesis 4.

What does all this matter? Hearing the echoes of Cain in Isaiah 1 adds another layer of richness and meaning to both Isaiah 1 and the story of Cain in Genesis 4.  Violence, no less than that of Cain, crouches at the door. You don’t have to slash someone with a knife to be in Cain’s predicament. Turning a blind eye to “justice and righteousness” will suffice (Isaiah 1:21-23).

Why Wasn’t Cain Accepted?

This is the question that arises in my mind as I read Genesis 4:1-16. Both Cain and Abel made an offering to Yahweh, but Cain wasn’t accepted. Here’s the text of Genesis 4:1-5:

והאדם ידע את חוה אשׁתו ותהר ותלד את קין ותאמר קניתי אישׁ את יהוה ותסף ללדת את אחיו את הבל ויהי הבל רעה צאן וקין היה עבד אדמה ויהי מקץ ימים ויבא קין מפרי האדמה מנחה ליהוה והבל הביא גם־הוא מבכרות צאנו ומחלבהן וישׁע יהוה אל הבל ואל מנחתו ואל קין ואל מנחתו לא שׁעה ויחר לקין מאד ויפלו פניו

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.

I’ve always assumed that the problem must have been with Cain’s offering. This interpretation goes back at least as far as the Septuagint (οὐκ, ἐὰν ὀρθῶς προσενέγκῃς, ὀρθῶς δὲ μὴ διέλῃς, ἥμαρτες; Gen 4:7). It’s an understandable reading. That is, if God rebukes Cain, then it must have been for something he has already done. This is how Nahum Sarna explains it in his JPS Torah Commentary.

The reason for God’s different reactions may be inferred from the descriptions of the offerings: Abel’s is characterized as being “the choicest of the firstlings of his flock”; Cain’s is simply termed as coming “from the fruit of the soil,” without further details. Abel appears to have demonstrated a quality of heart and mind that Cain did not possess. Cain’s purpose was noble, but his act was not ungrudging and openhearted. (Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis, JPS Torah Commentary, 32.)

Another Reading

As I read over the text yesterday, I became convinced that there is a better explanation. The story itself doesn’t beckon us to look back at Cain’s sacrifice and speculate about his attitude in offering his gift.

We aren’t told explicitly what the issue was, but what we do know is the rest of the story. In the very next scene, Cain decided to have a chat with his brother. They ended up out in a field by themselves, and Cain killed Abel. We assume the anger he felt toward his brother was motivated by “God’s favoritism.” But could it not be the other way around?

After reading verse 5, I think we are supposed to feel like we have missed something, but perhaps we are right where the narrative intends us to be. We need to keep reading to find out what went wrong at the altar.

Here is 4:6-8, the rest of the story:

ויאמר יהוה אל קין למה חרה לך ולמה נפלו פניך הלוא אם תיטיב שׂאת ואם לא תיטיב לפתח חטאת רבץ ואליך תשׁוקתו ואתה תמשׁל בו ויאמר קין אל הבל אחיו ויהי בהיותם בשׂדה ויקם קין אל הבל אחיו ויהרגהו

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.

Yahweh’s question in verse 7 points us forward. “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” I agree with Sarna. The issue is the state of Cain’s heart, but as Yahweh speaks with Cain, it sounds more like a confrontation at a the crossroads, rather than a rebuke.

God knew Cain’s heart was not right toward his brother. This was the issue at the altar, but more is at stake. Cain has not yet allowed his anger to turn to action. Sin is crouching at the door, and Cain must decide if he will let it have its way with him. The very next words reveal what Cain chose to do.

Summary

Cain wasn’t accepted because murder was already alive and well inside him. The sin for which he is renown was already conceived in his heart, and Yahweh therefore wouldn’t accept his worship.

Literary Ties Between Genesis 3 and 4

Genesis 4 is essentially a reenactment of Genesis 3. There are plenty of significant differences between the two chapters, but here are the literary similarities, as I see it.
As is well noted, the only occurrences of the the word translated “desire” (תשׁוקה) are in these two chapters (3:16/4:7). Eve’s desire will be for her husband, but he will rule over (משׁל) her. Sin’s desire is for Cain, and he must rule over (משׁל) it. The structure of these clauses is almost identical:

3:16 – אל אישׁך תשׁוקתך והוא ימשׁל בך

4:7 – אליך תשׁוקתו ואתה תמשׁל בו

It appears to me that the same literary phenomenon is going on in 3:22 and 4:8. In 3:22 the narrator breaks off Yahweh’s speaking mid-thought. So also, in 4:8 the narrator stops mid-thought:

3:22 – פן ישׁלח ידוֹ ולקח גם מעץ החיים ואכל וחי לעלם וישׁלחהו

“Lest he stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever . . . [new thought]”

4:8 – ויאמר קין אל הבל אחיו ויהי

“And Cain spoke to Abel . . . [new thought]”

Concerning 4:8, the NET notes comment, “Perhaps the author uses the technique of aposiopesis, ‘a sudden silence’ to create tension. In the midst of the story the narrator suddenly rushes ahead to what happened in the field.”

3:9/4:9 – After Adam sinned, the Lord asks “where are you” (איכה)? In chapter 4, after Cain killed his brother, the Lord asks, “Where is Abel (אי הבל)?

3:13/4:10 – After Adam shifted the blame to Eve, the Lord said to her, “What is this you’ve done?” (מה זאת עשׂית) When Cain shirks his responsibility to love his brother, the Lord responds, “What did you do?” (מה אשׂית)

3:14, 17/4:11 – Both the snake and the land (האדמה) are cursed (ארור and ארורה, respectively). So also, Cain is “cursed from the land” (ארור אתה מן האדמה).

3:24/4:14 – Just as Adam and Eve were driven (גרשׁ) from the garden, so also Cain is driven (גרשׁ) from the land.

3:24/4:16 – Adam and Eve must now live “east of the garden of Eden” (מקדם לגן עדן). So also, Cain must now dwell in the land of Nod, “east of Eden” (קדמת עדן).

For one attempt to explain the theological significance of reading these chapters together, see this previous post.