Lessons Learned: Introduction to God

My reflection on the contents of Genesis.
When I think of Genesis, I think of my childhood. These are the stories they taught in Sunday school and in vacation Bible school. These are the stories that were depicted in the coloring books they gave us when we were too young to attend the sermons in church. Genesis contains possibly the most well known stories (aside from the birth and resurrection of Jesus Christ), such as Noah and the flood or Joseph interpreting dreams. Before I started reading Genesis, I thought I would breeze through the chapters and be on to Exodus in no time. In my mind, Genesis was a simple book; it contained stories and lessons so simple, young children could understand. Now, I'm sure God was laughing at me.

The first thing I noticed as I moved through the chapters was how easily the meanings and events can be misconstrued/misinterpreted and still "make sense." Tiny assumptions can be added to phrases to create whole new meanings to the text. I reflected on the last time I'd read Genesis (in college around 5 years ago). The discussion leader was a Professor of Religion at my university and though he never stated what he believed, I assumed him to be theistic agnostic; there was a smaller chance of him being a full fledged believer, but it was highly unlikely that he was a complete atheist. He was critical of every passage and every verse, and while I think in many cases he played devil's advocate not answering the questions he asked because he wanted to get us to think on the matter (and answering would be pushing his beliefs on us), he twisted words often. Even so, there were many times when he would pose a question that really made believers in the class question their faith. Similarly, when I think back to childhood, everything was simplified to make it easier to understand and taught from the point of view of believers. Right or wrong, they gave an answer for every question we asked. No one left these sessions questioning their faith. Reading it alone, I was able to rediscover everything for myself without tainting the meanings of the words with preconceived notions. Below are some of the take-aways I felt were most important.

Who is God

Genesis is our introduction to God, so naturally one of the most important takeaways from the book is the answer to the question "Who is God?". The first thing we learn about God is that He creates the universe and all that is in it; this makes Him the Creator. The next thing we learn about God is that although the penalty for disobeying Him (or sinning) is death, the instant mankind sinned for the first time He hinted at the redemption of mankind and the triumph of His son over the devil. God is forgiving. Even though God would later tell Noah that any man who killed another man should be put to death, God is rather lenient in His treatment of Cain after he murders his brother—this is an indication of His patience and mercy. Speaking of Noah, when God was fed up with human sin, He flooded the world and destroyed them. God is all powerful and He will enact punishment when He feels it is appropriate. After the flood, God gives us the first covenant that He will not to destroy the Earth with a flood. God has kept this promise and even science shows it unlikely that a flood with destroy the inhabitants of Earth the way it did in Noah's day. God's Word is forever. When Hagar, the Egyptian slave, flees from Abraham's house with Ishmael, God hears her cries and comforts her. God is there for even the lowest by man's standard, and even then, He blessed her regardless of race or class. When Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers, it is both horrific and traumatic, but God works it out for the benefit of everyone. God always has a plan. God tells Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph that He will return to deliver the Israelites from Egypt, which we will see Him do in Exodus. God never leaves us.

Unbiblical Aspects of Biblical Stories

I've known for a long time that apples are not mentioned at all in the fall of man, or in Genesis at all for that matter, but I was quickly reminded that Adam and Eve had more children than just Cain, Abel, and Seth (no one ever mentions this). I was also reminded that Noah took more than 2 of each type of animal, contrary to the usual depiction of animals entering the ark two by two. The role of women in Genesis is not as cut and dry as people assert; Rachel was a herdsman or shepherd (a job usually given to men), God instructed Abraham follow Sarah's request, it is Laban who prepares the house for a guest, not his sister Rebekah, etc. Literature, movies and hearsay have added much to (and stolen much from) the words that are actually written.

Genealogy Matters

As a child I always skipped the so-and-so begat so-and-so who begat so-and-so passages in the Bible. I was of the mindset that it wasn't important. Many of my Bible study teachers would tell us the overall concept (Adam had Seth, Seth's line produced Noah, Noah's son Shem produced Abraham, from Abraham comes Jacob/Israel, and Jacob's sons create the 12 tribes of Israel) and we just skimmed the text to see that it matched what they said. Yet, a lot of the "extra" names provided in the lineages are names of nations that arise later. For instance, Ham has a son named Mizraim, this is also the name the Hebrews gave to Egypt[1], which is how/why people conclude that Ham's descendants settled Africa. Google Translate will tell you the current Hebrew word for Egypt is מצרים, and a pronunciation site will confirm that this word is pronounced "Mizraim." Furthermore when I studied Arabic, I learned that the Arabic word for Egypt is مصر, pronounced "Masr" or "Muzr." The word Mizraim is still tied to Egypt today, though those of us growing up in the English speaking world would never know this. Like with Mizraim, many of the offspring mentioned in Genesis refer to nations that will come into play later in history. The genealogies provide a relationship between those nations and Israel as well as origins for the name. These genealogies also help provide timeline for the events occurring. It is also interesting that though tradition often marked the eldest son was the inheritor, many cases in the Bible confer greatness on sons that are not eldest (Cain and Abel; Japheth, Shem, and Ham; Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his 11 brothers; Ephraim and Manasseh), another interesting fact that can be gleaned from these genealogies. We will also be able to use these genealogies to identify fulfillment of prophecy.

References

  1. Mizraim. Dictionary.com. 2015

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About

Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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