Leviticus: Fields, Beasts and Fabrics – nothing to do with purity

High Priest

If you came in to my house and saw a list of rules on my fridge that said: “you shall not mix bleach and Windex, you shall not mix cement and water in the toilet, you shall not mix dirty clothes with clean clothes,” what would you conclusion be?  Would you conclude that I am a purist and that I like to keep things separate so as to distinguish myself from the other houses in the neighborhood?  Or would you think that I have entirely distinct reasons for each of my rules?  Mixing Windex and Bleach creates a dangerous gas.  Mixing cement and water in the toilet ruins the piping and clogs the toilet.  Mixing dirty clothes and clean clothes makes for poor hygiene and difficulty in determining what needs washing.  My rules have absolutely nothing to do with me being a purist or wanting to distinguish myself from the houses around me.  But if you read some commentaries on Leviticus, you would think that such broad generalizations are a good way to interpret what is going on in this book of the Bible.

For example, Leviticus 19:19 forbids the mixing of fabrics, the mixing of animals, and the mixing of crops.  Many commentators thus conclude that these rules are all about purity and keeping things pure.  However, this approach is no better than concluding that my list of rules on the fridge is about purity and keeping things pure.  To understand the rules you need to understand the background behind them – God was not giving random rules about separating some things.  I’d like to tackle this list in Leviticus and demonstrate that there are clear and intelligent reasons behind these rules and that in none of the cases is it about “keeping things pure” or because “God doesn’t want anything mixed.”

First, let’s take note that Deuteronomy helps to shed light on Leviticus by expanding upon what Leviticus says:

            “You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.” (Leviticus 19:19 ESV)

“You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, lest the whole yield be forfeited, the crop that you have sown and the yield of the vineyard. You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together. You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself.” (Deuteronomy 22:9-12 ESV)

(1) “Nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material” & “You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together.”

What Leviticus says generally “two kinds of material” the book of Deuteronomy specifies with details “wool and linen.”  Why would this be a rule?  Well, that is simply explained by asking, “who does God command to wear clothing made of two kinds of material?”  The answer is found in Exodus 28:2-5:

And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood. These are the garments that they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a coat of checker work, a turban, and a sash. They shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons to serve me as priests. They shall receive gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen.  

The priests were wearing this type of clothing and so the rest of the people were not allowed to.  This isn’t terribly different from how our laws forbid people from dressing in police uniforms and thus impersonating officers.  God made rules where only the High Priest could go into the Holy of Holies and the priests could go as far as the Holy Place.  If people dressed in clothing similar to priests then commoners could make it into the Holy Place or perhaps even break in to the Holy of Holies.  There’s also the issue about the treasury of the Lord and the fact that priests could go in to it…  This rule has absolutely nothing to do with preserving clothing purity or purity in appearance, because the priests wore mixed clothing and they were holier than the commoners who were not wearing mixed fabrics.  The religious institution God created is what produced this rule.

(2) “You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed” & “You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, lest the whole yield be forfeited, the crop that you have sown and the yield of the vineyard”

First, it’s important to notice that “forfeited” is the wrong translation and that the word here (קדשׁ) never, at any point in the Bible or outside of the Bible, ever means “forfeit.”  This is the word for “holy” and is used here as a verb meaning “to become holy.”  Mixing the crops makes the field “holy.”  What does it mean for them to be holy?  In Num 18:8 the holy things of the people of Israel were given to God and then God gave them to the priests as their portion – mixing your field means that it is to be given to the priests.  The result for the person mixing their field is that they don’t get to sell or eat of their crop and for them it is “forfeit,” but the main idea here is that the priests are the ones who receive that harvest.  Why is this the case?  First, let’s take note that there is nothing bad about mixed fields, in fact they seem to be better – the crop becomes holy – too holy for a common person to eat.  Second, let’s remember that the priests were given land to harvest.  This, in an agricultural society that doesn’t use fences to box off fields, means that there are only two ways to distinguish the property of a priest from the property of a common Israelite:  (A) property stones – stones that were set up to mark where one person’s field ends and another’s begins…  the big problem in all ancient cultures is that people kept moving these stones and thus stealing from each other (Deut 27:17); (2) the common fields were unmixed and the priests had mixed fields.  The stones can be moved at night, but you can’t un-mix the crop of your neighbor’s field without someone noticing your large plant-transplanting operation.  The priests had their property dispersed in different parts of the land, “cities of refuge” and so there needed to be a way that across Israel the priests could have their property protected by something more than just boundary stones.  If a priest was growing grain and his common neighbor was growing grain then the neighbor could move his stone under the cover of night, take the property from the priest, and no one could prove anything to the contrary.  However, if the priest has rows of grain, wheat, barely, and other vegetables and his neighbor only had wheat, then any moving of the property stone could easily be demonstrated.  The only way to accomplish this very common stone-moving scam is for the commoner to imitate the content of the priest’s field and then move the stone when no one is looking.  Thus, the law indicates that if a commoner makes his field mixed then he forfeits his entire crop to the priests.  AKA: don’t bother trying to steal the priest’s property, you are the automatic loser.  Once again, an intelligent reason based on the religious and social system of the day, having nothing to do with “purity” – mixed fields are holy and unmixed fields are common.

(3) “You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind” & “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together”

At first glance you may wonder, “is there truly a relationship between these very different verses?”  And this would be a good question to contemplate, unless you’re aware of one important fact: the word being translated “breed” never denotes “breeding” in the Bible.  First, a quick comment on denotation and connotation: “to lie down” literally means (denotes) “to lay down on something” but it can be used to imply things (connotations) like: (a) he gave up the battle [he lay down]; (b) he had sex with her [he lay down with her]; (c) he died (he lay down and did not rise].  The word literally means “to lie down” both inside and outside of the Bible.  It also implies sleeping (Ps 139:3), beastiality (Lev 18:23), and to lay exhausted from a burden that is too heavy (Exod 23:5).  The translation would then literally be “you shall not make different kinds of animals lay”, which COULD by way of connotation refer to sex or it could refer to laying exhausted under the burden of the cart.  Which, by the way, is common symbolism in the Bible: (1) Jesus offers you an easy yoke – he’s the main animal pulling the cart; (2) Paul doesn’t want you to be unequally yoked with unbelievers – you being the main animal doing the work while the other one tries to wander off or is too small to properly fit the yoke with you.  In this case, the second view where the connotation of laying exhausted is being used makes far more sense in terms of how Leviticus and Deuteronomy parallel and explain each other in these two portions and also with how the rest of the Bible uses yoking imagery.  Also, mules (a cross between a horse and a donkey – a mixing of two animals) are spoken of as good things (1 Kings 1:44) and not bad things.  So, once again there is no concern for purity here.  As a side note, consider rules such as “do not muzzle the oxen as it treads out the grain” and how Paul applies that to pastors – the rules of fairness given for animals were obviously meant to be applied to humans as well, since humans are worth of at LEAST the same fairness that animals received.  Also, the righteous person has concern for his animals (Prov 12:10).

Rushing to make generalizations is usually the best way to rush in to error and miss all of the actual meaning of the text.  Many have read Deuteronomy 4:1-8 and concluded that the laws were given to make Israel distinct from the other nations and so laws about purity of appearance of clothing, fields, and beasts were given.  However, that is not the emphasis of Deuteronomy 4:1-8.  To quote the text, “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?”  The emphasis is on the nearness of God and the righteousness of the rules, not on difference in appearance between the Israelites and the nations.  As we have seen, all three of these rules are about righteousness – keeping non-priests out of the temple, keeping the priest’s fields safe from theft, and keeping animals from abusive work (which obviously applies to people if it applies to animals, according to the Apostle Paul).  Moses was not wrong to summarize the laws, including the ones discussed here, as “your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples” (Deut 4:6) – the peoples would be impressed by such wise rules of righteousness that defeated the scams of the day and called for fair treatment in labor, but no one would be impressed by random rules about keeping some things pure in appearance.

Posted in Ancient Near East, Ethics, Theology | Leave a comment

The Nephilim, the sons of the gods, and the Flood (Gen 6:1-8)

Nephilim-1

And it came to pass that man began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them.  The sons of the gods saw that the daughters of man were attractive.  So they took for themselves wives from any they chose.  Then YHWH said, “My Spirit shall not remain in man forever, for he is flesh – their days shall be 120 years.”  The fallen ones were on the earth both in those days and afterward, when the sons of the gods came in to the daughters of man, who bore children to them. They were the powerful men of old, the famous men.

 When YHWH saw that man’s wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every scheme his mind thought of was nothing but evil all the time, YHWH regretted that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. Then YHWH said, “I will wipe off from the face of the earth mankind, whom I created, together with the animals, creatures that crawl, and birds of the sky—for I regret that I made them.”  Noah, however, found favor in the sight of YHWH.

Note on the translation: I have chosen to translate “elohim” as “gods,” because the term can either be singular, as in another name corresponding to the same being as YHWH, or it can be plural (all of the cases where you read about strange gods in the Old Testament have the same term “elohim” for the plural “gods”).  The author has also taken care not to call Adam a “son of God,” although being made “in the image and after the likeness of God” is essentially equivalent to the concept.  Consequently, I believe the author is concerned with differentiating between God’s creation of man and the theology promoted by the “sons of the gods,” which will be discussed in brief below.

Sons of the Gods

We had a break in the story of the corruption that increased after Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden when we looked at the descendents of Seth.  The story now returns to the problem of increasing corruption in the world.  However, some technical Hebrew language is being used here that is difficult to for us to understand, as we don’t use these sorts of expressions.

In the ancient near east, the term “son of God” was commonly used to describe every king.  Each city had their own god and each king was considered to be the son of that God.  The people viewed the land as being owned by the gods and so only those few who were adopted by the gods to become their “children” could rule over that land in the place of the gods.  For example, king Eannatum inscribed on the Steele of Vultures that he was the son of the supreme god Ningirsu and Innana (war goddess).  Far from being insane, elsewhere Eannatum admits that his earthly father was in fact king Akurgal.[1]  What he means to communicate is that he is the representative of these two deities and thus had divine permission to rule and conquer in a land that is not owned by him or any other mortal man.

But if Babylonian claims are too far removed from the Israelite captivity in Egypt (although Abram came out of Babylon in the first place, being from Ur…), then even stronger evidence from Egypt can be demonstrated.  For example, an Egyptian coffin text that reads,

“O Thoth, who are those who are like the sons of Nut? They have stirred up hostilities, they have raised storms, they have committed iniquity, they have raised rebellion, they have perpetrated murder, they have done oppression, and furthermore they make the great to be small in all I have done. Grant, O Thoth, that that may take place which Tum has commanded, viz., thou shalt not see evil, thou shalt not suffer for their years are but dust, and their months are nearing (their end), while they are designing evil against what I have done.

Tum answers: henceforth he who has previously been directed by the Princes, he will rule (on his throne, and his son will inherit his throne) in the isle of fire… And further, I am going to deface all I have done; this earth will become water (or an ocean) through an inundation, as it was at the beginning. It is good what I have done to Osiris, exalting him above all gods. I give him the power over the land of the Netherworld; his son Horus will inherit his throne in the isle of flame. I have placed his throne in the boat of millions, I have given him what the Princes have ruled over, (that he should do) what he likes on earth, in order that Horus may stand on his seat and that he may take possession of his place of rest.”

The sons of Nut appear to be equated with the “princes” who rule over the earth, whose authority is about to be taken from them through a flood and then given to someone more deserving, namely the God of the Pharaoh (consequently, the Pharaoh is claimed to now have the right to rule over the earth since the God he is the son of is now in charge).  So, whether you’re in Babylon or in Egypt, the sons of the gods are princes and kings who rule over the earth.

These “sons of gods” took whoever they wanted for their wives, filling up harms with women.  These women were but sexual toys for them, and the  sons of the gods claimed to have the right to any and every woman.  We see this when the king of Egypt tried to take Sarah, or again when Abimilech the king of the Philistines  also tried to take Sarah.  We see this also in the story of Esther, where king Xerxes has many wives and chooses Esther to be the main wife over the rest.  All of these kings claimed to be sons of the gods.  This theology had a beginning somewhere, and I am arguing that this beginning began with Lamech.

Lamech had multiple wives and could kill whomever he liked, threatening that even the slightest damage done to him would result in total slaughter to the offender.  This description sounds suspiciously similar to how the kings who called themselves the sons of the gods acted.  Then, from today’s text, we see that individuals called “the sons of the gods” chose whichever wives they want.

The text before us holds out their treatment of women as corrupt and evil, and so it is.  These men falsely claimed to be the sons of imaginary gods in order to gain power over others, abusing it and ultimately abusing women as playthings and toys.  It is this treatment of women that brings forth God’s curse.  We saw, last week, from the Sumerian King List that these corrupt kings were ruling for on average 800 years and thus for hundreds of years at a time were terrorizing women and filling harems with women.  God looked down on this with such contempt that he decided to reduce the human lifespan down to a maximum of 120 years.  So, why is it that very few of us make it past 110 and that the oldest age that has been verified was 122?  It’s because of the corruption that we are prone to, and for the sake of reducing that corruption by reducing our lifespan.

Are you guilty of this yourself?  God made both men and women in his imagine and after his likeness – both are of equal value.  Have you favored one over the other?  Or perhaps have you judged people according to their skin color or social or economic background?  If so, then your life demonstrates the same sort of attitude that these kings demonstrated when they collected women like toys and prizes.

The only distinction God draws in terms of value is between those who trust in Him and love Him and between those who do not trust in Him and love Him.  Apart from this, any distinctions for the purpose of showing favoritism or contempt is disgusting in the eyes of a God who agrees with none of your distinctions.

Theology of the Sons of the Gods

Earlier I said that I am arguing that the “son of god” theology – the view that only the king is the son of a god – began with Lamech.  I am making this argument because we have found inscriptions from ancients such as Assurbanipal who would write things such as: “I am versed in the craft of the sage Adapa [a pre-flood hero]; I have studied the secret lore of the scribal craft and have memorized the celestial and terrestrial numbers…. I have read intricate tablets inscribed with obscure messages of both Sumerian and Akkadian, difficult to unravel, and examined sealed, obscure, and confused inscriptions on stone from before the Deluge.”[2]  Assuming that there is some truth to this, it seems that there were inscriptions on stones that survived the flood and thus brought forward the pre-flood worldview.  From the Biblical perspective, this would have been encouraged by Ham, who was around prior to the flood, and from whom the nations who most openly propagated the “son of god” theology descended.

So far we’ve considered what the term “sons of the gods” would mean to an ancient audience and we have seen that the description of their actions fits with what was done by the “sons of the gods” in the ancient Near East.  However, while the limitation on the lifespan of man is brought about by the treatment of women, the reason for the flood is far more general.  We read the scriptures say “YHWH saw that man’s wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every scheme his mind thought of was nothing but evil all the time.”  This is a very broad statement and leaves us with very little in terms specificity.  However, more details are available to us.  We will consider two perspectives on these details: (1) the unfolding problem of sin in Genesis; (2) the theology of the sons of the gods that we have records of.

First, the problem of sin in Genesis, as we have seen, is not merely knowing evil.  The best translation, based on the whole Fall story, is that Adam and Eve ate from “the tree of determining good and evil.”  They became people who set their own moral codes and values, rather than submitting to God’s.  This problem is seen in how Accomplish (Cain) responds to rejection – killing the one who is approved.  Then Accomplish’s descendent, Lamech, demonstrates the problem further by rejecting monogamy  and throwing off the view that humans have equally valuable lives (killing people freely).  These are cases of people determining what is right in their own eyes, and so living by their own standards.  This, ultimately, is done because people love themselves more than they love God and His ways.  So, in short, the problem of evil on the earth and why every thought is only evil continually is centred in the fact that people are determining right and wrong for themselves.

Second, we see that this is also the issue with the theology that the sons of the gods produced for the peoples.  They taught that only they were special children of the gods and that everyone else is scum that needs to submit to these wise and great kings.  They set up elaborate priesthoods and temples, giving priests lands and many financial benefits, so that their support of the king was really ensuring their own riches.  This high class priesthood and the king that ultimately presided over them were teaching lies and misleading the population in order to achieve their own comfort.  They were doing what was right in their eyes and enforcing their views upon others.  In short, the leaders were corrupt and acting as gods.  The religion was corrupt; just a pack of lies.  The whole of the world was either submitting to the corruption of liars or following their own made up moral standards.  All of this was, of course, horrendous in the eyes of the God who made the world for these people and continued to give them life, food and every good thing.

Thus, the problem of sin, which is people loving themselves over God and thus doing what is right in their own eyes, resulted in God’s judgment: first, in reducing their life-spans; second, in wiping out the whole corrupt system from the world.  We can see this problem continuing in our lives today.  Don’t we all continue to do what is right in our own eyes?  Even those of us who are Christians, who claim to follow Christ, don’t we often act on moral standards that we made up rather than what God has set down?

Carefully examine your life and your actions.  What motivates the things you do?  What standards do you live by?  If you are hasty, you will lie to yourself and say “I do everything for God and I live by God’s standards.”  You definitely do not do everything for God and you most definitely fail to live by God’s standards.  This is why Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

We daily need to evaluate what is directing our choices and decisions.  For our default position is to do what feels right to us, which is most probably the wrong thing in God’s eyes.

The Nephilim

Lastly we will deal with the issue of the fallen ones and the heroes of old.  I’m sure that you’ve heard many things about these fellows.  Some want to say that these are half demon and half human monster giants.  This, at least for me, is what I heard for many years.  However, is that really where the evidence leads?

We saw that the sons of the gods were kings claiming divine parentage, a claim which continued all the way to the Roman times when the Emperors claimed to be gods.  This even only recently came to an end in Japan, where Shintoism claimed that the king was the son of the sun god and thus must be obeyed.  So, angels aren’t even in the picture in this text, especially given the fact that angels neither marry nor are given in marriage (Matt 22:30).  Furthermore, these fallen ones are there at the time when the sons of the gods were creating their harems and having children, so they can’t be the result of these unions.

The term used is Naphal (נָפַל), which means to fall down or prostrate oneself.  It can be used in terms of worship (falling down as in bowing in worship) – meaning these could be the priests and worshipers of the sons of the gods.  Or, it could be a reference to how they were doomed to die.  Both in Isaiah (Isa 14) and Ezekiel (Ezek 32) the powerful leaders who were held in high esteem during their lives are described as fallen ones.  Since Numbers 13:33 speaks of them as being very large, it makes more sense that these individuals are not necessarily worshipers of the sons of the gods but rather large and powerful warriors.

This understanding further fits with the ancient writings.  We see that the heroes in the ancient writings were usually larger than others and more powerful as well, domineering their strength over others to gain control over them.  Thus, on top of the clever sons of the gods controlling religious beliefs for their benefits there are also those with physical power taking advantage of those who are weaker.  Everyone who has an advantage in life is using it to overthrow the weaker, be it intellectually or physically.

We should then look at our own lives and the talents and skills God has blessed us with.  Are we being, or have we been, like the fallen ones who domineered their strength and size over others?  Or perhaps we’re especially clever, like the sons of the gods, and we’ve used this to get the better of those with duller wits?  These sorts of sins have been taking place since before the flood.

God has given strengths to some so that they can use those strengths to the benefit of others.  To other God has given weaknesses so that here may be opportunity for service – blindness is given so that the deeds of godliness can be done to the blind.  But what do we do in a world of imbalanced strengths and weaknesses?  The strong oppress the weak.

The same situations that were going on when YHWH said  “I will wipe off from the face of the earth mankind, whom I created, together with the animals, creatures that crawl, and birds of the sky—for I regret that I made them,” are still going on today.  Another judgment is coming, though it won’t be in the form of a giant flood.  As Noah found favor in the sight of God, so we need to do the same.

We know that the problem of sin is lack of love for God which displays itself in unbelief and living by what is right in our own eyes.  If you want to find favour in the eyes of God then you must turn to God and love him more than yourself, submitting yourself to His ways.  His ways are righteous and good, and He is a God who saves people who deserve Hell through having Jesus pay the punishment you deserve on your behalf.  Turn to Jesus for help, look to him, if you want to find favour in God’s eyes.

In coming weeks we will consider the event of the flood judgment itself, but for now we would be wise to recognize that all of the sins that brought the flood are also present in our own lives.  Let us act wisely on this information, looking to Jesus alone for salvation.

[1]J. N. Postgate, “Royal Ideology and State Administration in Sumer and Akkad,”  in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, ed. Jack M. Sasson, (New York: Scribner, 1995), 397.

[2]Laurie E. Pearce, “The Scribes and Scholars of Ancient Mesopotamia,” in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, ed. Jack M. Sasson, (New York: Scribner, 1995), 2277.

Posted in Ancient Near East, Genesis, Theology | Leave a comment

Genesis 5 – Intentional Contrasts and the Sumerian King List

enoch

Before we consider the contents of the text at hand, it would be wise of us to recognize that we are looking at a unique type of literature that is no longer used today.  To see this, there are two considerations we must examine.

First, this list is very similar to the Sumerian King list.  The Sumerian King List also discusses the time periods before the flood and after the flood.  We will only focus on the period prior to the flood.  However, if you were to look at the post-flood kings you would see a very large list that has reigns slowly decreasing from very large to low numbers.[1]  The Sumerians, at an early state of their record keeping, used 60 as their base number (equivalent to our concept of 1), and so I have done the math for you and reduced the numbers in the 2nd column of the chart.[2]

Original Changed to Decimal Genesis
No mention of the first human(s) in this list. No mention of the first human(s) in this list. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died.
After the kingship descended from heaven, the kingship was in Eridu.
In Eridu, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28,800 years.
After the kingship descended from heaven, the kingship was in Eridu.
In Eridu, Alulim became king; he ruled for 480 years.
When Seth had lived 105 years, he fathered Enosh. Seth lived after he fathered Enosh 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died.
Alalgar ruled for 36,000 years.
Two kings; they ruled for 64800 years.
Alalgar ruled for 600 years.
Two kings; they ruled for 1080 years.
When Enosh had lived 90 years, he fathered Kenan. Enosh lived after he fathered Kenan 815 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enosh were 905 years, and he died.
Then Eridu fell and the kingship was taken to Bad-tibira.
In Bad-tibira, Enmen-lu-ana ruled for 43,200 years.
Then Eridu fell and the kingship was taken to Bad-tibira.
In Bad-tibira, Enmen-lu-ana ruled for 720 years.
When Kenan had lived 70 years, he fathered Mahalalel. Kenan lived after he fathered Mahalalel 840 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Kenan were 910 years, and he died.
Enmen-gal-ana ruled for 28,800 years. Enmen-gal-ana ruled for 480 years. When Mahalalel had lived 65 years, he fathered Jared. Mahalalel lived after he fathered Jared 830 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Mahalalel were 895 years, and he died.
The divine Dumuzi, the shepherd, ruled for 36,000 years.
Three kings; they ruled for 108,000 years.
The divine Dumuzi, the shepherd, ruled for 600 years.
Three kings; they ruled for 1800 years.
When Jared had lived 162 years he fathered Enoch. Jared lived after he fathered Enoch 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Jared were 962 years, and he died.
Then Bad-tibira fell and the kingship was taken to Larak.
In Larak, En-sipad-zid-ana ruled for 28,800 years.
One king; he ruled for 28,800 years.
Then Bad-tibira fell and the kingship was taken to Larak.
In Larak, En-sipad-zid-ana ruled for 480 years.
One king; he ruled for 480 years.
When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.
Then Larak fell and the kingship was taken to Sippar.
In Sippar, Enmen-dur-ana became king; he ruled for 21,000 years.
One king; he ruled for 21000 years.
Then Larak fell and the kingship was taken to Sippar.
In Sippar, Enmen-dur-ana became king; he ruled for 350 years.
One king; he ruled for 350 years.
When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he fathered Lamech. Methuselah lived after he fathered Lamech 782 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died.
Then Sippar fell and the kingship was taken to Šuruppak.
In Šuruppak, Ubara-Tutu became king; he ruled for 18,600 years.
One king; he ruled for 18,600 years.
Then Sippar fell and the kingship was taken to Šuruppak.
In Šuruppak, Ubara-Tutu became king; he ruled for 310 years.
One king; he ruled for 310 years.
When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the LORD has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” Lamech lived after he fathered Noah 595 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Lamech were 777 years, and he died.
Five cities; eight kings ruled for 385,200 years.
Then the Flood swept over.
Five cities; eight kings ruled for 6420 years.
Then the Flood swept over.
[If we were to add up the total number of years lived the result would be: 7625.  If we exclude Adam (since the Sumerian list excludes the first man) the total is: 6695
No mention of the flood survivor in this list No mention of the flood survivor in this list After Noah was 500 years old, Noah fathered Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

It sounds like there is a straight line of succession of kingship, but the Sumerians didn’t actually believe this was literally so.  This is a stylized arrangement that’s meant to give the appearance of kingship being passed down from one king to another without overlap or delay, despite the fact that these kings did overlap.  The arrangement is meant to communicate that kingship is only meant to be held at one place at a time; there could only be one king in the world.  This was a handy thing for the Sumerians to say, since they claimed that they held the kingship and that they should be the rulers of the world.  So, they arranged history to fit with the message they wanted to communicate, while at the same time both they and their audience understood that the list wasn’t meant to be taken as a straightforward reading.

Second, this is somewhat similar to the genealogy of Matthew, which counts 3 groups of 14 generations from Adam to Jesus.  The number 14 corresponds to the name David and the total number of generations corresponds to the total number of stages of travel (42) between the Exodus to the Promised Land (Numbers 33).  So, we see that the Bible commonly takes genealogical lists and chooses not to include individuals in the modified list so that the resulting list will fit with the message that the author is looking to communicate.  The genealogies before and after the flood are symmetrical: 10 generations with the 10th generation having 3 sons where one of the 3 sons has something negative happen to him.  Furthermore, Luke indicates to us that the list of 10 generations after the flood is missing at least one individual (Luke 3:36).  What does that mean for us when we want to understand Genesis 5?  It means that the list could be missing many generations of individuals and it is not meant to be taken as a straightforward full genealogy.  It also means that the intended meaning of the text is found in how it is arranged, which is where we will focus our attention.

Line Comparisons:

Cain’s Line Seth’s Line
3rd from Adam (Enoch) has a city named after him 3rd from Adam relies on God through prayer
  Seth’s Enoch walks with God
7th from Adam (Lamech) is a polygamous murderer 7th from Adam walks with God and is transported to Heaven – he doesn’t die
  Seth’s Lamech desires salvation from God’s curse

Since the genealogy is arranged to communicate a message, we will look for that intended message.  First, the numbers 3 and 7 stand out in the Bible and so readers are meant to pay attention to them when they appear.  The third from Adam in Cain’s line has a city named after him – a worldly accomplishment for a worldly person.  The third from Adam in Seth’s line relies on God through prayer – a detail that demonstrations humble devotion.  The seventh from Adam in Cain’s line is a polygamous murderer – he’s the picture of true scum and embodies the attitude of the world.  The seventh from Adam in Seth’s line walks with God and is taken from the world before he dies – he’s the picture of true hope: some people will escape the curse and will come to know God personally.    So, we are meant to compare and contrast the 3rd and 7th individuals in each of these respective lines.

Second, the names of individuals in the two lines are meant to be contrasted.  The Enoch of Cain’s line has a city named after him while the Enoch of Seth’s line is transported to Heaven.  The Lamech of Cain’s line enjoyed sin and relished taking the lives of others in a fallen world, while the Lamech of Seth’s line was burdened by the fallen world and desired for the curse to come to an end.  Seth’s Lamech named his son Noah, which means “rest,” in the hopes that Noah will be the one to bring the world rest from the curse.

Essentially, the highlights of Cain’s line are worldliness and evil while the highlight of Seth’s line is their relationship to God.  This would be a good moment to look to yourself and ask what the highlight of your life is?  Is it the job you once had?  A prize you won?  Something you accomplished in life?  Or is it your walk with God?  When you wake up in the morning and go about your day, what is the joy of your day?  Think carefully, because the thing you find most joy in during your day is going to be what the highlight of your life currently is.

Consider these passages:

Oh how I love your law!  It is my meditation all the day. (Ps 119:97)

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Ps. 1)

Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD. (Ps. 107)

Can you relate to this?  Are the Bible and the things God has done (both in the past and in the present) the highlights and joy of your day?   If so, then you are walking in the path of the saints who came before you!  If not, then you are dangerously far from God.  Consider carefully where your heart is.

Third, the most striking difference between Cain’s line and Seth’s line is that Seth’s line mentions life spans and that the individuals died.  Cain’s line implies that they died, and has no concern to tell us how long they lived.  In short, these sorts of details for the ungodly aren’t worth mentioning – they have no hope and no future; there’s no need to waste space on their fine details.  Ultimately, Cain’s line is destroyed in the flood while Seth’s line makes it through the flood.

We will consider the details of the flood in weeks to come, but we should take note of the fact that those who are cut off in the judgment are so unimportant that space isn’t given to the small details of when they had families and when they died.  They lived, they sinned – some sinned so badly it was worth pointing out how horrible they were – and then they died.  It’s a dreary view that demonstrates the low value that is set on their lives when compared to the high value set on the lives of those who love God.  Let’s take a moment to consider how God values those who care for Him:

King David writes:

            You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle.   Are they not in your book?  Then my enemies will turn back in the day when I call.  This I know, that God is for me. (Psalm 56:8-9)

The Psalmist teaches us that “From oppression and violence God redeems the lives of His saints, and precious is their blood in his sight,” and that “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.”  (Psalm 72:14; 116:15)

Or consider the teaching of the Apostle Peter:

            For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.  (2 Peter 2:4-10)

Do you see the difference?  There is no emphasis on God keeping a record of the sleepless nights of those who hate Him, or that he remembers their tears, or that their lives are precious in His sight.  He takes no pleasure in their death (Ezek 18:23), and even bemoans having to punish them (Isa 16:11), but nowhere is He said to treasure them.  The two genealogical lists emphasize the differences between the two groups, and we ought to take note of these things and consider our lives in light of these facts.  Why should we live meaningless and valueless lives when instead we can live for God and have every moment of our day be counted as important by the Divine King?

[1]http://www.livius.org/k/kinglist/sumerian.html

[2]For a fuller spelling out of the mathematical justification, see: https://answersingenesis.org/bible-history/the-antediluvian-patriarchs-and-the-sumerian-king-list/

Posted in Ancient Near East, Genesis, Theology | Leave a comment

Misquoting Jesus – Problems with Bart Ehrman’s Foundational Assumption

Misquoting Jesus

I recently saw a copy of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus in a garbage can that I frequently find myself travelling past.  Often I see books of various sorts in this particular garbage can – usually they are books I don’t recognize.  However, this time I saw a book I had heard of before and I decided to look a little bit into it.  I figured that having the author summarize, explain, and defend his own book would be quicker than reading a copy, so I listened to the James White vs. Bart Ehrman debate titled, “Did the Bible Misquote Jesus?”  I also read a summary online, just to broaden my scope a little.  Having heard the author defend his own work and reveal his foundational assumptions that undergird it, I noticed a rather glaring problem in his work.

To sum up the issue, Bart’s thesis that later scribes were intentionally changing things and adding their own theology to the text is irrelevant if we have earlier texts that show us what changes have taken place. The real issue of concern is in the realm of the earliest manuscripts.  Bart wants to give us the idea that a telephone game happened during the first hundred years or so.  He paints the picture somewhat like this:

Paul wrote a letter to the Philippians and they made copy which had errors in it.  The next copy built upon the errors of that copy and added its own errors, meaning that there were increasing errors in the text and we can never know what the text said before the errors came into it.

On the one hand, the fact that we have so many obvious scribal errors in the texts proves that Bart’s view of the situation is based on a real problem in the ancient world.  On the other hand, a silent assumption is being made.  Did you catch it?  What happened to the original letter?  Why does it disappear from Bart’s understanding of the situation?  I can quote Bart in the debate saying “you got yourself published in the ancient world by circulating your letter – you gave it to a friend who made a copy for himself and then he passed on the original for someone else to make a copy.”  Meaning, its not the copy containing errors that is passed on, but the original.  Let’s assume that the original letter Paul wrote is destroyed within 5 years of being written, for whatever reason.  For 5 years it circulated and copies where made off of it.  Errors were not compounding, but each copy had unique errors in different places.  So if 4 copies agreed and 1 disagreed on a word, I think it’s rather easy for us to see that the 4 are right and the 1 is wrong.  Each of the original copies would have begun what we can label a “tradition” or “line” of copying where the copies made off of that copy would contain the errors of the original copy plus the errors the next scribes would make.  However, despite how annoying the errors may be, as long as there are other traditions we can do comparisons with, we can get back to the original text.  A singular telephone game was not happening, a series of telephone games with transcripts of many of the conversations were happening.  That’s a rather large difference in scenario.  Consider this:

Go and give the book of Phillipians to 20 people and ask them to make a hand written copy, then have other people make copies of those copies.  Do this for 5 generations, then gather the all of the copies together.  Put aside the first two generations.  Look at all of the copies from the 4th and 5th generations and maybe 4-5 copies of the 3rd generation.  See if you can get back to the original text based on comparing the manuscripts to each other – I bet you, with no training, will be able to reconstruct an almost identical version of Philippians from this experiment.

In summary, when Bart removes the original text from the equation as soon as a copy is made, he accomplishes two things: (A) he contradicts his own understanding of how books were put into circulation; (B) he creates a false worldview where one of the most important foundational assumptions is simply wrong and thus the whole system of thought that builds on this assumption is mistaken.  Bart, at his foundation, is contradicting himself.  Until he fixes his foundational assumptions, his conclusions can be ignored as being divergent from reality.

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Genesis 4:17-25 : Sin City

Ancient_City_Ruins

Summary of Cain and Abel

We left off a couple of weeks ago with the story of Cain (whose name means Accomplish) and Abel (whose name means worthless).  We saw that God chose what was despised in the world – he chose the humble Worthless who loved him and rejected Accomplish, who was the favoured son, because Accomplish didn’t feel he needed God.  Accomplish killed Worthless out of jealousy and God condemned the act.  Accomplish was punished by being cast further away from God’s presence, having even more difficulty in cultivation placed upon him, and was additionally given a mark to protect him from his brothers and sisters who want to kill him for his crime.  He moved and settled in the land of wandering, where our story continues.

Story Continues

Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad fathered Mehujael, and Mehujael fathered Methushael, and Methushael fathered Lamech. And Lamech took two wives. The name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah also bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.

Lamech said to his wives:

“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;

you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:

I have killed a man for wounding me,

a young man for striking me.

If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold,

then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”

The Continued Sin of Cain

It’s easy to skim over Cain’s genealogy and hurry on to the flood study in chapter 6, but doing so would be a real disservice to all the things we can learn from details listed here.  We can learn at least three things from what the text tells us about Cain.

(1)   God cursed Cain to wander.  He responds to this by founding a city and refusing to wander.

(2)   God told Cain that His mark would protect him, but Cain has no trust in God’s promise.  The word that’s being translated “city”, עיר, can refer to anything from three houses with a fence around them to a giant metropolis with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants.[1]  The main idea is that the community is protected from outsiders by a fence or a wall and a gate.  Cain seeks to protect himself, choosing to ignore God’s promise of protection.

(3)   Cain names the city after Enoch, his son.  God is so insignificant in his mind that he has nothing more important in his life to name this city after than his child.

In short, Cain continues to disobey, distrust, and disregard God.  He is relying entirely on his own efforts and is striving with full strength against anything God has said to him.

Before we scorn him too harshly, we should always first look to see if there are similar logs in our eyes:

(A)Are we refusing to obey God’s commands?  Cain refused to wander – has God told us to do things that we absolutely refuse to do?  Jesus has commanded us to love and pray for our enemies, and to devote all of our lives to him.  How are we doing with this?  If we utterly refuse to do these things, we should take the warning seriously – such an attitude displays the heart of an enemy of God.

(B)  Are we distrusting what God has said in the Bible?  God told Cain that the mark he put on him would protect him – Cain lived his life as though God’s word was a lie.  Does your daily life show that you believe God’s words or that they are just interesting fairy tales in your eyes?

(C)  Are we cherishing God’s gifts over God?  Cain loved Enoch more than he loved God and so named the city after him.  When we think about what makes us happiest, is it our children?  Our past accomplishments?  Our grandchildren?  Our spouse?  If these are our first answers and God is something we just feel obligated to put on the list, then we are walking in the same steps as Cain who loved the gifts over giver.

 Sin City

Cain, having established a city named Enoch, paved the way for further rebellion and rejection of God.  W. G. Lambert, a well known Ancient Near Eastern scholar puts it best when he considers the development of polytheism thousands of years ago: “as civilizations grow, the dependence of the people upon their gods decreased, and they began more and more to see their gods as merely larger and more powerful versions of themselves.”[2]  Even pagans, who made up their own gods, lost respect for them and downgraded their importance when they began to believe that they could manipulate the world to their benefit on their own.

Do we not see the same attitude today?  The most developed countries in the world are the most inclined towards atheism or agnosticism.  The least developed countries in the world are the most spiritual in mindset.  Technology tends to bring with it feelings of self-sufficiency.  Feelings of self-sufficiency reduce feelings of dependency upon the divine realm, and so the most scientifically advanced peoples tend to be the most prone to reject the notion of deity.

In case anyone here is prone to think otherwise, please be reminded that it was belief in God that produced science in the first place.  The two men who are normally credited with the development of the scientific method are Roger Bacon and Francis Bacon.  Roger Bacon, born around 1200 AD, was a Franciscan friar who reasoned that since God is consistent, then the universe should be consistent and we should be able to conduct experiments and expect consistent results.  Francis Bacon, born around 1500 AD, furthered the methods of Roger and promoted the world and the Bible as God’s two books, teaching humanity about what the divine is like.  Both of these men were devoted to the idea that the physical universe manifests the character of God, and so it is studiable.  This is quite different from the pagan notion of warring gods, where one deity may beat up another deity and change the physics of how things work at any time.  The Christian view is also quite different from the atheist view, which through observation alone could never have concluded that the universe was consistent (universal ultimate truths are beyond human reach, and science relies on it being ultimately true that the universe is consistent – no experiment can prove this, it can only be assumed; assuming that the universe is consistent is a blind assumption on behalf of the atheist).  So, we see that modern progress is the result of assuming that the Bible’s worldview is correct.  However, the necessity of God’s consistency for all of our accomplishments is quickly forgotten as our minds and hearts are drawn to focus solely on the accomplishments themselves.

The very same problem that is happening today also happened back in Cain’s city of Enoch.  Their development blinded their need for God.  We can see this in two observations.

First, the descendents of Cain are accredited with impressive inventions and innovations:

  • Jabal is credited with innovating the idea of traveling the country side with flocks of sheep and living in tents – this allows for the city to be provided with food meat without having to produce animal farms.  This allows for city dwellers to focus on things other than raising animals.
  • Tubal-cain is credited with having created all tools made of iron and bronze.  His work allowed for better city construction, and also irrigation.  The city of Enoch was most likely located somewhere in Mesopotamia where the rivers would change courses year by year, causing farmers to wander and re-plant near the new location of the river ever year.  However, tools allowed for farmers to dig and redirect the river back to them if it should move.  Also, this allowed for improved irrigation.  All of this would mean that, once again, city dwellers could have a working class in the irrigation fields while an upper class relaxed and partied it up in the city.
  • Jubal is credited with creating and mastering the harp and the lyre – the people of the city could be entertained and have parties, effectively distracting themselves from God.

So, we see that Cain’s descendents were increasing in their technological advancement and creating ease in their lives, allowing for artisans of music and metal to arise.  Do we not see the same thing today?  We’ve created a society in which some people don’t have to spend all day working, and when we have free time we like to spend it on entertainment rather than on God.  Not much has changed.

Side Note On Entertainment

Imagine a husband who vowed to his wife on his wedding day, “I will devote myself to knowing and loving you in everything I do.  I will not cheat on you or lie to you.”  Years later, the husband has spent his time playing golf and fishing and barely pays attention to his wife.  He never cheated on her or lied to her.  Has he kept his vows?  Clearly he has not kept the vow of being devoted to his wife, and the mere fact that he has avoided doing the things he swore he wouldn’t do doesn’t make him a good husband.  This applies to the Christian who makes their decisions based on asking “is it sin for me to do this?”  And then does it just because the Bible didn’t say “don’t do this.”  The Bible tells Christians to be 100% devoted to God all of the time and gives us more ways to do this than we have hours in the day (prayer, devotions, evangelism, serving others, etc.).  Ignoring all of the things God says He wants you to be doing and watching television just because the Bible doesn’t condemn it is no better than the husband mentioned above.  When we get upset and say “what about my entertainment?” we forget that: (1) we’ve been bought with a price and our job is to entertain God, not ourselves; (2) rest from having to function as God’s representative on earth only happens in Heaven; (3) when God demonstrated what rest means by resting on the 7th day He demonstrated it by governing the world for the benefit of others – “my Father is always working, and so am I” – He didn’t sit back and tune out, and neither did Jesus in his life or in his resurrection; (4) finding television shows, movies, and sports more entertaining than God and His mission on earth is blasphemous – you want to TUNE OUT from contemplating God?  (5) there are no examples of godly people in the Bible having hobbies (other than those things that turned out to be sin) which were not related to worshiping God or serving others (which is a form of worshiping God).  It goes without saying that a person who spends more time on secular entertainment than on reading scripture has their priorities all mixed up – but even this is a horribly low standard for a Christian to live up to.  Anything less than demonstrating devotion to God in 100% of every activity is too low and the things we defend in the name of “Christian Freedom” will be things we will be ashamed of in Heaven.  Do you really think you’re going to see the glory of God and think to yourself, “boy I’m glad I watched that season of Breaking Bad and kept up to date on the World Cup – serving God during those times would have been such a foolish waste.  Also, seeing God’s glory now is so disappointing that I was right to seek entertainment outside of contemplating God and what He has said.”

Lamech

Second, Lamech, the poet of this chapter, demonstrates the departure from God that feelings of self sufficiency envoke.  Allow me to quote it for us again:

“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;

you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:

I have killed a man for wounding me,

a young man for striking me.

If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold,

then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”

What should stand out to us immediately is that Lamech is proud of being a polygamous murderer – he even writes authors songs or poems about it!  The quality of morality in the city of Enoch is clearly demonstrated in the person of Lamech.  The people have no concern for following God’s monogamous marriage example from the garden, so Lamech is free to take two wives for himself – women have become mere objects to collect and use.  The city also has no concern for justice, as Lamech kills people who so much as hit him.  The term being translated “young man” is יֶ֖לֶד, and it often means a small child, although it can sometimes mean a young/immature man.  Another way to translate the passage would be, “I have killed a man for wounding me and a small child for hitting me.”

As for the phrases “sevenfold” and “seventy-sevenfold,” the concept of 7 is one of fullness of completion.  God promised that anyone who attacked Cain would receive the fullness of punishment.  Lamech, rejecting God’s ways of justice, promises that any offence against him will result in far more than justice – death is the result for crossing Lamech!  We have this sort of attitude in places like North Korea where the sentence deserved by one member of the family is shoved upon the whole family for at least 3 generations.  Do you want to mess with Lamech?  He’ll have your whole family killed along with you.

Everything God has established for man is rejected in the city of Enoch.  God creates monogamous marriage; the city of Enoch goes polygamous.  God declares that human lives are of great value because they are made in His image, after His likeness; the city of Enoch spits on human lives.  God declares that humans are to work the ground and keep it; the city of Enoch sets some folks aside to work the ground and the rest party it up in wickedness.

Modern Day

It’s easy to look at the flaws of others and shake our heads, but have we considered our own times very well?  Lamech was into killing off the families of people who harmed him.  We’re actually far worse.  We kill children before they have the opportunity to inconvenience our lives.  We’ve not only legalized abortion, but we’ve made it freely accessible.  And we’re proud of it!  The whole of Canada is no better than Lamech – a bunch of murderers and accomplices through silence who consider ourselves civilized and righteous.  Allow me to make a Hebrew-type poem for Canada:

“Courts and Law Enforcement;

you who approve of evil, listen to what I say:

I killed a child for almost annoying me,

a baby for trying to live.

If justice is fair,

then it doesn’t dwell in our land.”

We live not in just the city of Enoch but rather the country of Enoch.  Also, sadly, Lamech would probably fit right in to our society.  Lamech, whose children vastly improved technology and comfort of living, was above all of God’s justice during his days.  Our celebrities and corporations are essentially the same.  How do you feel about living in Canada?  Don’t compare it to worse countries – that’s like feeling good about yourself because you’re not Hitler – Rapists aren’t Hitler, should they feel good?  Look at Canada for what it is and consider how you feel about living here.  If you feel comfortable, like this is a good place to keep living, then consider how far away from God your value systems are.

Today we have seen the effects of sin in Cain and in his descendents and how it leads in a downward spiral of accomplishment, pride, and moral corruption.  There is no hope in such a message.  But the chapter doesn’t end there.  Let us consider the closing lines of this chapter:

And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD.

While the sons of Cain flush out the fullness of sin, another child is born who follows in the steps of Abel.  This time Eve doesn’t gloat about how she’s accomplished getting a child – she openly admits that this child is a gift given by God.  This marks a whole new approach.  The family that despised the shepherd boy by calling him Abel (which means Worthless) is longing for someone like him to return to this world – someone who truly follows God.  And when this follower comes, they do not pat themselves on the back but give glory to God.  Other children of Adam and Eve also follow in these steps and “call upon the name of the Lord.”  This means that they are looking to God and relying upon him, which contrasts with what Cain’s family is doing. Even in the midst of hopelessness God sends hope, and those who rely on God instead of themselves are saved from the darkness of this world.

Have you been like Cain’s family?  Have you been feeling comfortable living in the city of Enoch?  If so, the road you are on only leads to increasing sin and finally the sevenfold justice of God will come upon you when you are fully punished in Hell.  But there is hope.  Just as Eve turned from self-reliance and pride to relying upon God, and others followed in her steps, so you too can turn to Jesus.

Jesus said that he is the way to God, the truth of God, and life that God gives.  If you turn to him and ask him to save you – if you call upon the name of Christ – instead of relying on yourself, Jesus will save you from the punishment that’s coming.  He is the child that God promised would crush the head of Satan.

So turn to him, before it’s too late.  Don’t end your days like Cain and his descendents, upon whom the floods came and killed them all.  God is patient, but His patience has a limit.

[1]Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 7th ed. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003), 746.  Also see Ernst Jenni, Claus Westermann, and Mark E. Biddle, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2:881.

[2]W. G. Lambert. “The Historical Development of the Mesopotamian Pantheon: A Study in Sophisticated Polytheism” in Unity and Diversity: Essays in the History, Literature, and Religion of the Ancient Near East (Baltimore: John Hopkins, 1975), 194.

Posted in Ethics, Genesis, Personal, Theology | Leave a comment

Cain and Abel: The Story of Accomplish and Worthless

Image

Gen 4:1-16

When we come to this text in English we miss out on a few features that Hebrew speakers would immediately notice.  The most prominent feature of this story would be the fact that the name Cain means “accomplish” or “get” and Abel’s name means “vanity” or “worthless.”[1]  I’ll now re-translate this portion of the story again in a way that will help you see the text like a native Hebrew would see it:

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Accomplish, saying, “I have accomplished getting a man from the LORD.”  And again, she bore his brother Worthless. Now Worthless was a keeper of sheep, and Accomplish a worker of the ground. In the course of time Accomplish brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Worthless also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Worthless and his offering, but for Accomplish and his offering he had no regard. So Accomplish was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Accomplish, “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.” (Gen 4:1-7)

How does the text sound to you now?  Doesn’t it seem like the author is trying to communicate something to by their names?  Let’s consider this for a moment.

Adam & Accomplish (Cain) = Gardeners

First, we must look at the father.  Adam was to be a worker of the ground, for the Lord commanded him to work the garden and keep it while he was still in the garden (so, prior to the fall).  Then, outside of the garden, God cursed Adam’s work as a gardener saying that his duties will be more difficult due to thorns and thistles.  We can clearly see that Adam, both before and after the Fall, is a worker of the ground –  a gardener.

Accomplish, like his father, is a worker of the ground and thus is following in the footsteps of his father.  Having been told that a child of the women will crush the serpent, Adam and Eve may have viewed their firstborn as that promised child (Gen 3:15).  The very fact that they named him Accomplish at his birth showed their pride in the firstborn, pride that could have only swelled as their son walked in the steps of his father.  We see that Accomplish is the favoured firstborn son.

Worthless (Abel) = The Disfavoured Son

In contrast, Worthless is not a worker of the ground and breaks away from the path of his father.  There’d be no long chats about the best way to grow a rutabaga patch and the fine details of how to prune the olive tree would be of no interest to this flock herder of a son.  In short, he is Worthless.

The text doesn’t tell us what Adam and Eve called him at his birth, but it’s hard to imagine that as soon as he was born that his parents decided to call him Worthless.  Perhaps he was a frail child from the womb and so they’d call him this, but it’s more likely that he was renamed or nicknamed Worthless later on in his life – as happens in other parts of the Bible.

Conclusion Regarding Names

This is a story about the favoured accomplished son of the family who is held in high esteem and the black sheep of the family who is held in contempt.  We know from many ancient texts that gardeners were held in high esteem – kings claimed themselves to be great gardeners – and generally shepherds were looked down upon as dirty.  Their occupations and their names match up just perfectly.  The story of the older and younger brother is a common theme within scripture, where the elder son who is highly loved by the parents is disfavoured by God in favour of the younger (Isaac and Ishmael; Jacob and Esau; Solomon and Absalom; etc.)

The Sacrifices

We have seen that Moses is contrasting the two characters of this story by their names, but he is using more than just their names to communicate a message to us.  We must now look at the sacrifices offered and consider their place in this drama.

Both Sacrifices Are Good

Both of the sacrifices we see in this story are good.  The grain offering that Accomplish brings to the Lord is approved of in Leviticus chapter 2 and Worthless’ sacrifices from the flock are approved of in Leviticus 3.  So, we see that the particular sacrifices are both good in the sight of God – He doesn’t value sacrifices from the flock more than he values sacrifices from the field.

Further Details… Comparison!

So, since the type of sacrifice isn’t the issue here, we must look closely at the descriptions of the sacrifices that Moses details for us. We see that Accomplish brought of his harvest from the ground…  And no more details are given, which stands out quite conspicuously to the compounded details of Worthless’ offering: he didn’t just bring of his flock, but of the firstborn of the flock, and he didn’t just bring of the firstborn, but of their fat portions –   essentially, Worthless brought the best of the best.  We are meant to compare these two and see that Accomplish merely brings something while Worthless brings the best he possibly can.

Accomplish

Personally, I’m guilty of being like Accomplish.   When I was a young lad, 8 years old, and I had to go to the birthday party of someone I didn’t particularly like, I grabbed and wrapped up a toy I didn’t care much for and presented it to them as their present.  It must have been pretty obvious to others that I didn’t really like this person based on my present, but I didn’t care.  I just had to complete the formality.  This is what Accomplish’’s offering was like, a mere formalism – he cares nothing for God and is only interested in getting the ritual out of the way.

Worthless

Worthless, on the other hand, is a completely different story.  Have you ever seen how some business owners take and frame the first dollar their business makes?  They hold onto it and cherish it, although it’s only worth a dollar.  Worthless takes what is most valuable to him – the first profit he has – the firstborn of his flock – and gives it to God.  His actions show where his heart lies; He cherishes God far more than any success in his life and joyfully gives the best of the best to his loving Heavenly Father.

Conclusion Regarding Sacrifices

The outward actions of Worthless and Accomplish demonstrate their inward heart motives and desires, which the New Testament picks up on when it says that Abel offered a better sacrifice because he offered it with a heart of faith.  So, we see that the real concern isn’t whether you show up for church or whatever other religious activities you do, but rather where your heart is as you do these things – what is motivating you?   Accomplish kept the best for himself and gave second best to God – what do you do?

Let us continue reading the narrative, but I will keep with the name change that we’ve been using thus far:

Accomplish spoke to Worthless his brother. And when they were in the field, Accomplish rose up against his brother Worthless and killed him. Then the LORD said to Accomplish, “Where is Worthless your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the LORD said, “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.” Accomplish said to the LORD, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” Then the LORD said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Accomplish, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD put a mark on Accomplish, lest any who found him should attack him. Then Accomplish went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (Gen 4:8-16)

We see here that the problem of Accomplish’s bad heart motives is further proved by the actions he takes afterward: he kills his brother because he is jealous that Worthless is accepted and he is not.  Sadly, Accomplish failed to take God’s warning seriously and is entirely given over to sin.

Dominated by Sin

Worthless’ spilt blood is personified as crying out for justice to God, and God answers by approaching Accomplish and giving him an opportunity to confess his sin.   Rather than confessing his sin, Accomplish claims to have no responsibility for the welfare of his brother and denies even knowing what has happened by making the flippant remark “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”  We see in him the fullness of the effects of sin: just as his parents denied responsibility and tried to pass the buck, so too does Accomplish deny responsibility and try to remove from himself the fact that as the firstborn it was his job to care for his siblings.

The result of Accomplish giving himself over to rebellion and sin is seen in God’s response.  God takes away the blessing of fruitful cultivation from him and he is left without the ability to grow a harvest.  Then, just as Adam and Eve were sent to the East after the Fall, so Accomplish is sent further East to wander around aimlessly in what would be literally translated as “the land of wandering.”

In all of this, God is gracious and puts a mark on Accomplish so that his other brothers and sisters do not come and kill him for what he has done.  He is allowed to live out the rest of his life in fruitless wandering, living as a demonstration to the rest of his family that abandonment of God is abandonment to a meaningless difficult life.

We should take God’s warning seriously and look at Accomplish’s life as an example of what happens to those who give themselves over to sin rather than to love for God.  The blessings he had were lost, and ultimately he was lost.  If we have ever been like Accomplish, approaching God with mere formalism, then we ought to be take note of the dangerous road we are so prone to walk.

I’m sure that if we’re all honest with ourselves then we’ll see that we have approached God with formalism and failed to give him our best many times throughout our lives.  So then what should we do if this is the case?  Just as Worthless’ blood cried out for judgment against Accomplish, so do our actions and the people we’ve harmed along our road of life call out for judgment against us.

The New Testament

The New Testament, in the Book of Hebrews, invites believers to come to the blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Heb 12:24).  Abel’s blood cried out judgment, but the blood of Christ calls out for the forgiveness of those who look to him.  Just as Worthless, or Abel, had his faith in God rather than in himself and his own accomplishments, so we must look to Christ and put our faith in him and what he has done on the cross.

The dominion of sin will never be broken while we trust in ourselves rather than in God and the blood of Christ.  Jesus came and spilled his blood, giving up his life in the place of sinners, so that evil people like you and me can receive acceptance with God.  Instead of wandering in Hell, like Accomplish (or Cain) wandered in Nod, we can rejoice in the presence of God.

This story is included in Genesis for a variety of reasons, not the least of them being the fact that it stands as a firm warning against formalism in our relationship with God.  What path will we choose to follow?

 

[1]Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, 7th ed. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2003).  Page 210 for הֶבֶל(Abel), and page 884 and 888 for קַיִנ(Cain).

 

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