Bible Text: Genesis | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Genesis The Right Lens: An Introduction to Genesis by William Klock How many of you have been to the Royal BC Museum down in Victoria?  It’s an amazing museum, isn’t it?  My favourite part is the Natural History floor.  Ever since I was a little kid I’ve loved natural history museums.  I liked to stand in front of the habitat displays with the stuffed animals and birds, I always loved the hands-on displays about geology and volcanoes, and most natural history museums or aquariums seem to have cool, kid-friendly oceanographic exhibits.  But, friends, the exhibits we see in our museums tell us something of the way we as modern people approach God’s Creation.  We even see it in the name; we talk about natural history.  We talk and we think in two categories; on one hand we have the natural world and on the other we have the supernatural.  Physicists and chemists and biologists tell us about the natural world; theologians tell us about the supernatural.  And on one level that’s usually a good thing.  We’re all specialists in our own field and when we start encroaching on someone else’s field we often get ourselves into trouble.  I struggled enough with physics and chemistry and biology when I was in University that I know well enough to stick to my field of theology and biblical studies. It’s especially easy to see this division when we hear secularists mock the whole idea of the supernatural.  And yet even we Christians tend to think in these same separated categories.  We think of the natural world as the ordered Creation of God and then we talk about the supernatural as those miraculous instances when God breaks into his Creation to do something that the natural order isn’t capable of doing on its own.  But brothers and sisters, this is not the worldview of Genesis or of the Bible.  To the Israelites the entire cosmos was supernatural.  God not only created it with order and purpose, but he continues to sustain it, to move it, to work it.  In the biblical worldview there is no differentiation between natural and supernatural. I say this to make an important point.  Today we’re starting in on a study of Genesis, but before we jump into the biblical text we need to realise that our modes of thought and way of seeing Genesis as modern people is very different from the way ancient people—in this case the ancient Israelites—thought and spoke.  The biblical text, or at least the core of it in Genesis, is at least 3000 years old, and during those 3000 years the way we think and see the world has been influenced by everything from the Greek philosophers to the Enlightenment and the Scientific Method, by men like Eratothenes and Copernicus and Darwin and Einstein.  One of the most important principles of Bible study is context—to understand what a biblical text means, we have to first put ourselves in the shoes—and mindset—of the people to whom God first spoke these words.  Yes, God wrote them for us, but first he wrote them to someone else—to the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt, or to the people of Judah as they were in exile in Babylon, or to early Christian as they struggled with persecution.  Before we can make assumptions about what the text says to us, we first have to ask what it meant when God spoke these words to them.  And that means we have to realise and accept that God spoke to them in their language in their way of thinking and of seeing the world.  If we simply jump into the text and assume that everything written there is spoken in our language and our categories of thought—that we can take it at what looks like face value to us—there are many times when we’re going to misinterpret the text.  We’ll come to the text with wrong assumptions and asking the wrong questions. To illustrate this problem think about the word “creation”.  This is one of the concepts at the core of Genesis 1.  There are philosophers who spend their lives pondering what “creation” means and what “existence” means.  That’s not us.  Most of us just accept that “to create” means to bring something into existence.  And we all know what it means to exist.  I don’t want to get overly technical here, but it’s important we understand this.  There was a point in time, not quite forty-one years ago when I did not exist.  But one day two cells joined together with all the right genetic material and I came into existence—and you and I know I exist at least because I’m standing here talking to you right now.  I know that the pulpit I’m standing at exists because I can feel it, I can lean on it, I can see it, I could take out a tape-measure and measure it.  And yet when you and I define existence this way we’re showing our modern scientific bias. Secular scientists think of existence and creation this way: They look at creation in very physical and material terms.  They know the cosmos exists because they can observe and measure and test it.  When they ask where it all came from they’re thinking in physical and material terms.  The “Big Bang” theory says that at one point all the matter in the universe existed in one point and that it exploded out and what we see today is the result.  It’s easy to approach Genesis the same way: At one point there was nothing, then God spoke and suddenly everything that we can now observe and measure and test came into being.  One moment it wasn’t there and the next it was.  Whether modern scientist or modern Christian, both are looking at existence through a modern lens that focuses on the physical and material. But God was speaking to the ancient Israelites when he gave them Genesis.  One of the things we realise as we look not only at the Hebrew language but at the cultural context in which the Israelites lived is that they thought of existence in very different terms.  Ancient people thought of existence in terms of function and purpose.  Something “existed” when it worked and when it had an orderly place and purpose in the overall scheme of the cosmos.  It’s not that they didn’t understand that things exist in physical terms, it’s just that they didn’t think of existence that way.  As natural as it is for us to think of existence in terms of being able to see and touch and measure something, it was just as natural for them to think of existence in terms of what that thing’s place and purpose is in the created order. This is what these first chapters of Genesis are about: creation and existence—but in whose terms?  Christians have struggled with these chapters for 2000 years, but especially so in the last century.  And yet an awful lot of our problem is that we’re looking at Genesis with modern eyes.  Modern people think of creation and existence in physical and material terms and when we look at Genesis that way it doesn’t fit our observations of the world around us.  Secularists see it in modern terms and dismiss it as ancient myth.  As Christians we know we can’t do that, but the majority of modern Christians who are trying to save the Bible from the secularists are perpetuating the problem by looking also looking at it through that same modern lens.  We try to force Genesis into the mould of the modern scientific way of thinking and we get into heated debates about whether the six days were literal 24-hour days or six long ages.  Some Christians try to stretch the meaning of the Hebrew words in order to make them conform to what modern science tells us about the cosmos.  And yet all of these folks, whether “Young Earth Creationist” or “Old Earth Creationist” or “Concordist” end up missing the text’s point because they’re not looking at the text through the eyes of the people to whom God originally gave it.  They’re not asking the right questions. When I was growing up my dad had a friend named Charlie.  Charlie was bald, but he often wore a cap that said, “God made a few perfect heads; the rest he covered with hair.”  When I think about the current debates taking place over Genesis I remember Charlie’s hat, because these arguments are an awful like arguing about the colour of a bald man’s hair.  If God’s given someone a perfect head, we should be looking at and admiring the perfection of it.  We would miss the glory of God’s creation—even in something so inconsequential as a head—if we were instead to get bogged down in a heated argument over the colour of the hair that the man doesn’t have. Lord willing, what I hope to do this morning is give you the right lens to look at Genesis with—to get you asking the right questions so that you can appreciate what God does say in these chapters instead of asking the wrong questions and getting sucked into debates about what’s not here and things that God has chosen not to speak to in Scripture.  And so this morning I’d like us to set aside our material lens and instead pick-up an ancient lens that looks at the world in terms of purpose and function.  This is a hard thing to do because it means trying to look at the world in a way that’s very foreign to us, but this is what we need to do if we want to see Genesis as the Israelites saw it. If you’ve got your Bibles with you, please open them to the first chapter of Genesis.  I want to show you what this kind of functional interpretation looks like.  Look specifically at verse 5.  (We’ll work backwards from there.) God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. Notice: God called the light day and he called the darkness night.  Now let me ask: Why didn’t God call the light “light” and the darkness “darkness”?  If we’re naming things, light is “light”.  Yes, the sun produces light, but we can get light from all sorts of other sources—the sun is not the only source of light.  And if we’re thinking in terms of “things”, well, darkness isn’t a thing.  It’s actually the absence of the thing we call “light”. I’m indebted to Dr. John Walton for asking this question.  Some of you will remember him from the videos we watched while we read the Old Testament in the Bible in 90 Days course.  Dr. Walton asked this question and I’ve found it incredibly helpful, because it’s a question that forces us to examine our interpretive lens; it’s a question that’s shows us this text is about function and purpose, not physical matter. If you ask this question you’ll realise that Genesis isn’t talking about light and dark in general terms.  What it’s saying is, “God called the period of light “Day” and the period of darkness “Night”. Now backup to verse 4: And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. If we’re talking about light and dark as material “things” this doesn’t make any sense.  Light and darkness can’t exist together and if they can’t exist together you can’t separate them.  But it makes perfect sense if we’re talking about a period of light and a period of darkness.  So again, Genesis isn’t talking about God creating light and darkness in some general sense, what’s it’s talking about is God establishing periods of light and darkness—it’s talking about God establishing an orderly cycle of day and night.  Now back to verse 3: And God said,  “Let there be light,” and there was light. What’s God creating here?  We might have said that he was creating light itself, but that doesn’t fit.  What he’s really creating is the day itself.  He speaks into darkness and creates the orderly cycle of day and night. In fact, in verse 5 it then says: “there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” But more importantly, if God is creating day and night, what’s he really creating here?  God doesn’t create the sun until the fourth day.  This isn’t about the sun and moon, it’s about time.  The Creation story in Genesis 1 is about God creating order out of chaos and the first step in creating order is to create time. We see more of this making order out of chaos as we backup now to verse 2: The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Those two words “formless and void” are important.  This is the description of the world before God began to “create”.  It’s interesting that the basic physical stuff of creation is already there.  That points us to the fact that Genesis isn’t concerned with where physical matter came from, it’s concerned with how it functions and what its purpose is.  “Formless and void” (or tohu wabohu in Hebrew) describe non-fuctionality and non-purposefulness.  More importantly they describe something or some place that isn’t fit for human life.  “Formless and void” was how the Israelites and the Egyptians described the desert and the wilderness.  It’s not that the desert wasn’t physically there, but that as far as they were concerned it served no useful function—it was hostile to human life—and so it didn’t “exist” in the way they understood existence. Now go back to verse 1: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. “Heaven and earth” is the cosmos—everything.  And in Hebrew “beginning” refers not so much to a point in time, but to a period of time at the start of something.  These words introduce the account of creation as an introduction to the rest of the book of Genesis.  The rest of the book is broken up into eleven sections or historical periods—we’ll see this later—but this is the introduction and it’s like a twelfth period time: the seven-day period of Creation.  So it’s not saying, “At a point before all this, God created the cosmos.”  It’s referring to the coming seven days and saying, “This is the beginning—the time when God created the heavens and the earth.”  What Chapter 1 then goes on to describe is not the creation of physical matter itself, but God’s giving order to chaos and giving function and purpose to each part of his Creation. Even the word “create” is loaded with meaning.  The Hebrew word is bara and it shows up about fifty times in the Old Testament.  What’s interesting is that only God creates in this way.  Humans never bara.  To bara is a divine action.  But it’s also interesting to look at what God bara­-s, because God doesn’t bara physical things.  He bara­-s nations and peoples.  He bara­-s phenomena like wind and fire and calamity and destruction.  He also bara­-s righteousness and purity.  God bara­-s humans, but even then it’s not in a physical or material sense; he bara­-s them as male and female—he creates them not in physical terms, but in terms of their roles and functions within the created order.  Bara is all about function and purpose.  That’s how God creates.  He brings things into “existence” by giving them a place and a purpose within his created order.  This doesn’t mean that God didn’t create the physical material of the cosmos, it just means that that part of creation wasn’t what was important to the Israelites or to Genesis. So far we’ve only covered Day One.  Let’s quickly look at Day Two in verse 6.  God speaks and creates an “expanse” or a “firmament” to separate the waters above from the waters below.  Concordists—the folks who try to harmonise this with modern science—have a terrible time with the firmament.  I’ve heard a number of explanations over the years, but they all ignore the simple fact of what the Hebrew word actually means and they all ignore what we know of how ancient people, including the Israelites, thought about the world.  They didn’t have telescopes or microscopes, but they still were very logical.  They knew that water sometimes came up out of the ground and so they concluded that the earth—which everyone thought was a flat disk until Eratothenes proved otherwise about 250 years before Christ—they figured that that flat disk must be floating on water.  And since water comes down from the sky, there must be water above the sky too—the sky is blue, after all.  And if there’s a sea of water in the sky, logically there must be some kind of dome—or firmament—to keep it up there. If we take a materialistic approach to Genesis this is a problem.  Airplanes, rockets, and space shuttles have never crashed into the firmament on their way up.  But once we start looking at this in terms of purpose and function it’s not a problem.  If this is about purpose and function, it’s not a problem for God to speak in terms of how the Israelites understood the world structurally. This is where some people have trouble.  As Christians it’s important for us to affirm the reliability of the Bible.  But as Christians it’s also just as important for us to affirm that God speaks Scripture to us through human beings and using human language.  It’s easy to take set these two truths at odds with each other, but doing so isn’t a valid option.  There are a couple of examples that, I think, can help us understand how God uses limited human language to communicate truth. First, think of all the times the Bible describes thought or will or emotion in terms of the heart.  Every Sunday we affirm that we are to love God with all our heart and mind and strength.  You and I know that we don’t think or feel with our hearts—those are mental processes. And when our English translations refer to “mind” they’re actually translating a word that refers to our guts—to intestines and kidneys and liver.  We think of “heart” as a metaphor, but ancient people believed that because we feel things in our chest and our guts, that that’s where we think.  They didn’t know what the brain did—in fact when the Egyptians mummified people they carefully put all those other organs in sacred jars, but they pulled out the brain and threw it away.  But when God spoke to his people, he didn’t see a need to correct their primitive physiology, he just spoke in words they understood.  Ditto for their understanding of the cosmos.  God spoke to them in terms of sunrise and sunset.  We don’t give those words much thought because we still use them ourselves, but those words describe the movement of the sun from geocentric terms.  They come from a time when people believed that the earth was the centre of the universe and that the sun moved around us.  Again, God didn’t see a need to correct that understanding of the world, he used it to speak to his people. So here in Day Two, God isn’t talking about the creation of physical structures.  He simply uses the Israelite’s ancient understanding of the world to communicate function to them.  In this case, as he separates the water, putting half of it up in the sky—he’s creating the weather.  The Israelites talked about weather in terms of widows in the firmament or the heavens that would open and close to let rain through.  We talk about pressure systems, Jet Streams, and el Niño.  Either mode of speech works just fine to communicate the point that on Day Two God put the systems in place by which he gives us weather and gives needed order to his Creation and makes it habitable for humans. Then on Day Three God shows his control of the sea and creates dry land.  And once he’s created dry land he causes plants to grow.  From a material standpoint it looks like he’s doing two different things on Day Three, but if we see it from the standpoint of purpose and function we see that what God’s doing is creating a system of agriculture.  In these first three days he’s created time, he’s created weather, and he’s created a source of food.  He’s taking what was formless and void—what was without purpose or function—and he’s making it fit for human beings to inhabit.  Think about how these things are the basics of life.  When we make small talk with people what do we talk about?  We talk about the things that are the most common to all of us: time, weather, food.  Genesis tells us that we have them all thanks to God.  He established them and he sustains them. We don’t have time this morning to go into Days Four, Five, and Six—we’ll do that in the coming weeks—but in them we see more of the same:  God puts the sun, moon, and stars in the sky.  Why?  Genesis describes their purpose: for signs, seasons, days, and years.  On the fifth and six days God fills the seas with fish, the skies with birds, and the land with animals—ending with human beings—but each to have dominion over its sphere of Creation. And then finally we get to Day Seven and we’re told that God rested from all his work.  To our ears it sounds like God was exhausted from all his work and now it’s time to kick back and relax for the weekend.  This is where we need, again, to understand how the Israelites thought—and not just Israelites, but Ancient Near Eastern people in general—because Day Seven is the key to this whole sequence.  When ancient people read this and saw that God rested they would immediately think: “temple”.  In the ancient world when you talked about a god resting you were talking about temples.  That’s why ancient people built temples: it was a place for their gods to rest. But we also need to understand what it meant for a god to “rest”.  We think of rest as kicking back and doing nothing or doing something fun as opposed to work.  For us it’s disengagement.  That wasn’t the case for these people.  A god rested in his temple, but his resting there basically made it a control room or a helm or a pilothouse from which the god would oversee his people and control his creation.  To have your god resting in the temple you  made for him meant that he was in charge.  It meant that he was overseeing your family, your crops, and that he was protecting you from your enemies. This was how ancient people thought.  And so they built temples for the gods.  They made special furniture and ordained priests to serve in the temple as their god’s functionaries.  And then they built images of their gods—idols—and in an elaborate dedication ceremony that typically lasted seven days, the idol was brought into the temple to take control and watch over the people.  And yet every people had a different god and every god had limited power and authority over his land and his people. Now consider what Genesis 1 meant to a people living in that kind of world.  This is God’s way of showing the Israelites that he was the one, true, God.  He wasn’t limited to one people.  He wasn’t limited to one place.  He doesn’t rely on human beings to build him his house.  He builds it himself.  That’s what Genesis 1 is.  It’s God’s narrative to Israel that as Lord of Creation he has built his own temple, he furnished it himself in glorious and beautiful fashion, and he has created human beings to be his priests—to care for his creation and to worship him.  All the while he sits on his throne in the heavens with the earth as his footstool as he sustains it and cares for it all. Brothers and sisters, this is the truth of Genesis 1.  There’s a lot more here to look at in greater detail and we’ll do that in the coming weeks, but this gives us the big picture; it gives us the lens that we should be looking through as we study Genesis and when we’ve got the right lens we can start to ask the right questions.  The point of Genesis is not the age of the cosmos or the technical details of exactly how God created the various parts of it—as if we could understand those things anyway!  The point here is that God shows his glory as he tames chaos and makes it a fit place for our habitation.  And he doesn’t just make a fit home for us, but he rests in the midst of his Creation.  There is no natural or supernatural; there is just that which God creates and continually sustains out of love for his people and to show forth his glory. Let’s pray:  Heavenly Father and mighty Creator, thank you for life and thank you for the way you so lovingly care for us by creating and sustaining the world we live in.  And thank you Father for stooping down and lisping to us in our language and on our terms that we might know you as our Creator and Sustainer.  Give us an appreciation for your holy Word and help us to understand it and see it aright as we embark on this study of Genesis.  Help us to know you and your mighty deeds better that we might give you the praise and glory and honour you are due.  We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

In the Beginning

April 22, 2012
Bible Text: Genesis 1:1-2 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Genesis In the Beginning Genesis 1:1-2 by William Klock Last week we began our study of the book of Genesis by addressing the issue of how we should read, how we should look at Genesis.  (If you weren’t here, I encourage you to read or listen to last Sunday’s sermons, because we dealt with some important foundational questions.)  In short, I made three basic points: First, God communicates his truth to us in Scripture, but that he does so through human writers and through their language and understanding of the world.  God spoke to them in the language they knew.  Instead of correcting their understanding of the world’s structure, he simply worked with it.  All human language has its limits and all human language is enculturated.  That doesn’t hinder God communicating his truth.  The second point was that ancient people, including the Israelites, thought of creation and existence in non-material terms—something very foreign to our modern scientific way of thinking.  To them creation and existence were about function and purpose.  And finally, my third point was that to interpret the Bible responsibly means that we have to first ask what it meant to the people to whom God originally spoke before we ask what it means to us today.  That means that we can’t impose our way of understanding the world or of understanding existence and creation on the text.  A lot of people do that and call it the “literal” interpretation, when in fact it isn’t literal at all.  It’s imposing our ideas on the text rather than letting the text speak for itself. Today I want to start a more details look at Chapter 1 and especially the first two verses.  In Genesis 1:1 we read: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Chapter 1 goes on from there to describe how God took what was formless and void, what was without purpose and function and made heaven and earth.  And over these six days we see God creating and making a place fit for human beings to live and calling it good.  And yet it’s not just a home for human beings, as we saw last week, the cosmos is God’s temple.  His Creation serves him and gives him glory.  The language of Chapter 1 is interesting; it’s not poetry, although it does show some poetic elements, but neither is it the language of straight-up historical narrative.  Genesis 1 has it’s own style.  It’s a sort of liturgical style, which is why some Old Testament scholars think that it may have originally been a litany that was used each year in the tabernacle or the temple to remind the people that the place where they worshiped on earth was just a model meant to teach them about the cosmic temple that God had created for himself and in which we serve as his priests.  It’s after this affirmation that God is the Creator and Sustainer of all that we get into the rest of the story.  In Chapter 2 Genesis tells us more specifically about the creation of human beings and our role in God’s plan.  In Chapter 3 Genesis tells us about our sin problem and how we abandoned our Creator.  From there we read the story of God’s redemptive plan to save us from our sin.  Most of Genesis is the story of Abraham and his children—of one man whom no one had ever heard of when he was alive and this little band of people who were descended from him.  In the big picture of history Abraham and his family are nobodies.  But these first chapters of Genesis remind us that this is God’s story, that he has a purpose, and that as he works out his purpose he uses ordinary and everyday people; fallen and sinful people; by the world’s standards, small people instead of great people. What did this mean to the people who first heard it?  For that matter, who were the people who first heard it?  The internal evidence in the Bible attributes Moses as the author of these first five books of the Old Testament and as much as it’s been disputed for the last 150 years, there’s no good evidence to reject the ideal that Moses was at least responsible for the core material that makes up this part of the Bible.  And that means that this was originally written to God’s people as they travelled through the wilderness of Sinai.  They had just been delivered from 400 years of slavery in Egypt.  From the warning that Joshua gave the people (Joshua 24:14) before they crossed into the Promised Land we know that while they were in Egypt they had adopted Egyptian religion and Egyptian ways of looking at the world.  Ezekiel reminded the people twice (20:16 and 23:1-4) that they had prostituted themselves to Egyptian gods.  The historical evidence we have would also suggest that along with the descendants of Abraham and Jacob, there were other slaves who came out of Egypt along with the Israelites—people who had never known the God of Abraham. Think about what that meant.  The worldview of these people was steeped in paganism.  While they evidently still recognised the God of Abraham, he was just one god amongst the whole pantheon of Egyptian gods.  And consider what the Egyptian gods were like.  Have you ever read about them?  Maybe you’ve read stories from Greek and Roman mythology—about Zeus and Hera, Apollo and Aphrodite and the whole lot of them.  Those gods were capricious and immoral, constantly fighting amongst themselves.  The Egyptian gods were no different.  Add to that that pagan peoples tended to think of their gods as being subject to human manipulation.  Contrast that with the God of the Bible.  He establishes right and wrong by his very nature and character.  We know what is holy and righteous and just because those things are who he is.  In contrast think of the pagan gods.  They did whatever they pleased; they had no moral code.  And consider that the God of the Bible is not some volcano god to be placated by throwing him a virgin when he seems angry.  He’s a God who works with purpose.  He establishes covenant relationships based on his election of people to be holy as he is holy and what he decrees always comes to pass.  It’s a difference in worldviews that’s like the difference between night and day. So here in the desert, having come from pagan Egypt and as they prepared to enter Canaan which, if anything, was even worse than Egypt, God gives his people a grounding in who he is.  And he does it by speaking in the language they understood.  He speaks in the cosmology of the Ancient Near East as we’ll see, but as he deals with each part of Creation—things the pagans often thought of as gods themselves—he shows that they’re just “things” that are under his control.  The sun, the sky, the primordial waters aren’t gods—they’re just “things” that he controls in order to give us life and to bring himself glory.  I find this point particularly interesting.  As modern people we have a materialistic point of view.  We want God to speak in materialistic language, whether it’s to describe creation in terms of the Big Bang or to read Genesis as a six-day even of material creation.  Not only did the Israelites not think in those terms, but the fact that God was able to speak to them in their cosmological language meant that he could confront the pagan gods of Egypt and Canaan on their own turf and on their own terms.  With each day of the story, God not only gives function and purpose to the world and makes it fit for human beings, he also crushes the gods of the pagans and demolishes their false religion.  We miss that if we don’t read this with the right lens. But in terms of an “original audience” it doesn’t stop with the Israelites in the wilderness.  There was no written Hebrew language when Moses was writing, at least as far as we can tell.  He might have been writing in Egyptian or one of the older Canaanite languages that evolved into Hebrew.  And Moses only takes us up to the doorstep of the Promised Land.  The rest of Israel’s history was written later—much of it in court records and the like.  It wasn’t until the people of Judah were in exile in Babylon almost a thousand years later that the history we have running from Genesis through 1 and 2 Kings was finally put together in more-or-less the from we have it today.  There’s a good chance that Genesis 1 was put where we have it as a prologue to the story at that time.  The Jews knew that they were God’s people and that God had made promises to them, but how were they to reconcile that with being exiles in Babylonians, removed from their promised land and their temple destroyed.  Part of their getting a grip and a restored perspective on who they were as a people and remembering God’s promise to them was to organise their recorded history.  Here at the very beginning God reminds them that regardless of what things may look like, he is the Creator, he is the Sustainer, and he is always in control. That’s the big picture.  Lets look at the text again: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. We looked at some of this last week too.  “In the beginning” points not to a single moment in time when God suddenly turned nothing into something.  The context and the Hebrew language behind the statement demand that we see this “beginning” as referring to the coming seven days.  The beginning is this period of creation.  This is the prologue to the story of God and his people and it all starts with him building and establishing his cosmic temple—heaven his throne and earth his footstool—“in the beginning”. Again, we saw last week that “create”—the Hebrew word bara—is a special act of God.  Human beings never bara; only God does.  And we saw that as the word is used about fifty times in the Old Testament, when God bara-s it’s not about materialistic creation; it’s about giving things function and purpose in his creation.  We see this especially at the end of the chapter when God bara­-s human beings, but not in physical or material terms; he bara-s human beings in their roles as male and female. One thing that points to this being a prologue that gives the big picture before we start to narrow in on Abraham and on Israel is the fact that verse 1 tells us that it’s “God” who is Creator.  There are all sorts of titles that the Bible gives to God, but throughout the Old Testament there are only two basic words used to address him.  One is the Hebrew word Elohim and the other is Yahweh (or some older translations read it as Jehovah).  Elohim is sort of a generic term for deity, which is why our English Bibles translate it as “God”.  In contrast, Yahweh is the name that God revealed to Moses at the burning bush.  Moses asked whom he should say sent him and God told him, “Tell them that I AM has sent you.”  Yahweh equals I AM.  In that sense it’s not a proper name like Osiris or Baal or Zeus.  God doesn’t have a name in that sense and so when Moses asked who he was, God told Moses to refer to him by who he is.  God defined himself in terms of his own existence.  He is Existence itself (yes, with a capital “E”).  He is the “Supreme Being” and every other being that exists owes its existence to the supreme and eternal existence of the Creator.  That’s what’s behind Yahweh, but because the Jews were so protective of the name, when they saw it in the text they would replace it with the word “Lord”.  Most of our English Bibles carry on that tradition.  So when you see “God” in your Bible, you can assume that the Hebrew behind it is Elohim and when you see “Lord” in all capitals you can know that Yahweh is behind that. Now, back to the text.  In this first chapter that tells us about the Almighty Creator of the cosmos, it’s Elohim who acts.  Chapter 2, in contrast, zooms into the Garden and shows us the Creation of human beings.  There we see the personal Yahweh acting—Israel’s God.  And there’s a reason for that.  Chapter 1 teaches us that there is one almighty Creator God—not a bunch of petty, squabbling gods, but One who is sovereign over all things.  Since he isn’t named, people might ask: Who is this great Creator?  Chapter 2 answers the question: This one almighty Creator is Yahweh, the God of Israel. Now look at verse 2: The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. This is yet something else that points us to this being about the functional instead of the material and that only makes sense if we understand that God is speaking in the cosmological language that the ancient Israelites knew.  God is getting ready to create, but verse 2 tells us that the earth was already there and that it was formless and void.  Remember tohu wabohu from last Sunday?  Formless and void refers to having no function or purpose.  It’s like the desert or the wilderness—hostile to human life.  More importantly that words tohu is connected with the Egyptian word for chaos.  This is how most ancient peoples understood the world to be in its uncreated state: some kind of chaotic primordial water or sea.  Moses was schooled in Pharaoh’s court and so his understanding of the world’s structure was Egyptian: Before Creation the world had been a chaotic sea. Creation resulted in a flat earth with a sea below and a great dome to holdback the sea that was above.  God didn’t try to correct Moses here, he simply worked with what Moses knew to communicate his truth.  In ancient myths those primordial chaotic waters were usually associated with a god or goddess of chaos.  Not here.  And where other ancient people saw the chaotic waters as a sort of eternal opposite and enemy of the god who creates and brought order, Genesis uses language that makes it clear that these waters are a temporal reality—that they’re not eternal.  In fact at the end of the story in Revelation we read that darkness and the abyss will be gone from the new heaven and earth. The text says that Creation began with the “deep”, the “abyss”, with chaotic primordial waters.  This is a place we have to be careful and where we have to understand the language of the text.  Interpreters who assume this about material creation argue that God created the chaotic waters as the first step in creation and that he then went on to give it shape over the next six days.  The problem is that this dark abyss is bad; it’s formless and void, which means that it’s completely antithetical to God’s purpose of creating with function and purpose.  God doesn’t create chaos; he creates order.  This isn’t a problem if we recognise that God is speaking in cosmological terms that the Israelites understood—he’s speaking in ancient terms of function, not in modern materialistic terms and in those terms the question of where the abyss comes from is irrelevant.  Remember that for these people existence depends on having function and purpose.  The abyss represents chaos, the polar opposite of purpose and order, so from their perspective the abyss represents non-existence.  (Remember I said last week that it’s hard sometimes to wrap our heads around their way of thinking.)  The point is that before God created, human life was impossible.  When we set aside our materialistic worldview one of the things that jumps out at us here is the fact that even in Creation God is working out his redemption—making order out of chaos so that we can live. And even though nothing has been created yet, we see God in control.  His Spirit hovers over the chaotic waters of the deep.  There’s a sense in which we see that even the chaos is under God’s supervision, but more importantly we’re reminded that God’s Spirit is something like an architect when it comes to creating the cosmic temple.  Think of the building of the tabernacle—God’s earthly temple—in Exodus.  God gave Moses the plans, but then he appointed Bezalel to be the builder and we’re told that God gave Bezalel his Spirit for the task.  And her we see God’s Spirit hovering or brooding over the waters of chaos, ready to make a world fit for human life and that will give God glory. That’s as far as I want to go this morning.  We’ll get into the first three days next Sunday.  But let me ask: What does this mean for us?  Let me make two points as we close.  First, Genesis tells us that God created an ordered cosmos.  I think that’s an uncontroversial given for us as Christians, but we don’t always fully understand the implications of God having created an ordered cosmos.  There’s a contest that’s been going on for the last century between the “Bible” and “Science”.  There should be no such contest.  The point of the scientific method is to observe the world around us and, by trial and error, to develop hypotheses, theories, and laws about how the cosmos works.  The fact that the scientific method works is evidence of the order that God has built into his Creation.  The scientific method means that our scientific understanding will always be growing and evolving and changing, but as Christians we should be affirming what scientists do and there should be no conflict between us and them.  As we’ve seen, the Bible deals with the question of purpose.  Science is about the material world; purpose is outside its scope.  Other than those times when an atheistic agenda is being pushed—in which case scientists are overstepping their bounds—Christians should be happy to see the order of Creation being revealed by human observation and we should see our growing knowledge of the cosmos as greater reason to praise God for his majesty and wisdom.  If our observation of the order of the cosmos tells us that it’s billions of years old we can acknowledge that such observations are probably right or are at least on the right track, rather than asserting that the Bible has a different view of material origins and that God has dishonestly perpetrated a great “fake-out” by creating a universe that appears to be old but really isn’t—that he created a universe that has the appearance of order, but that any such appearance is false or only reliable to some arbitrary point.  Would the God who openly reveals himself in the pages of Scripture, would the God who wants us to know him and to know him well and who tells us that he offers a general revelation of himself in his Creation, build a cosmic lie into his Creation?  He could, but it goes against everything we know of him. Second, when God spoke through Moses he spoke to a people steeped in pagan ways of thinking.  Here God gives them their own Creation story that kicks the pagan gods in the teeth and that shows them that he’s in control. On the first day the gods of light and dark are dismissed.  On the second it’s the gods of sea and sky that are show to be not gods but just things in God’s control.  One the third day it’s the gods of earth and vegetation.  On the fourth it’s the gods of sun, moon, and stars.  On the fifth and sixth God takes away any ideas we might have of gods connected with the animals.  Finally, on day six, God shows us that human beings are just creatures too—we’re all the same before him, whether Pharaoh or slave and yet he reminds us, too, that he has given his image to each of us, from the lowest to the highest.With that in mind consider that we confront paganism each day too.  We live in a mission field.  Today’s paganism isn’t the same as the paganism that confronted the ancient Israelites, but it’s not all that different either.  Consider this: (1) I’ve been talking these last two weeks about our material worldview.  There’s nothing wrong with looking at the world that way, but consider how so many people today take it to the point that only the material matters—a worldview in which there is no room for God or the supernatural.  And (2) since everything is material, we then get the idea that we eventually can know everything there is to know just by observation of the world.  Again, there’s no need for God.  Lesslie Newbigin wrote: “The most obvious fact that distinguishes our culture from all that have preceded it is that it is—in its public philosophy at least—atheist.  The famous reply of Laplace to the complaint that he had omitted God from his system—‘I have no need of that hypothesis’—might stand as a motto for our culture as a whole.” (3) From there we fall into a deterministic mindset.  If everything can be ascribed to natural, mechanical processes life no longer has any value and morality becomes completely irrelevant.  This is how we wind up with a culture has no problem killing the unborn.  And all this together (4) leads us to secularism.  No longer is there any place for religious faith and worship in the public sphere.  The only purpose of nature, society, or government is the fulfilment of our material desires and even if those desires are immoral we baptise them by calling them human “rights”. (4) Increasingly now we couple that secularism with humanism.  Not only is there no room for God, but because there is no room for God the ultimate goal and purpose of everything is humanity and our interests.  No longer is God the Creator who owns his Creation.  It all belongs to human beings and rests in our control. But of course not everyone in our mission field is a secularist.  Increasingly the polls show us a growing number of people are “spiritual” or “religious”—they just aren’t interested in traditional spirituality, the Church, or the God of Scripture.  People are moving back into paganism—the very same false religion from which God rescued his people.  No longer is God the Creator, God is the Creation.  No longer is there any objective truth or morality, but only what “works for me” and what “makes me happy”. Brothers and sisters, this is why the message of Genesis is so important.  It confronts secularism and paganism head on and reminds us that there is, in fact, a Creator and that he is sovereign.  And this is the basis for the Gospel.  The God of Genesis is a God who loves and who cares for his Creation.  He’s also a God of justice and righteousness, which means that when we reject his love and when we reject his righteousness we are guilty of sin.  And that’s when we remember again that the God of Genesis is loving and sovereign.  He doesn’t leave us in our sin, but becomes one of us, takes our sin upon himself, and offers himself as a sacrifice for our sins so that we can be restored to his fellowship.  The God who conquered chaos to give us a home, the God who lovingly created us, the God who continually sustains us, now offers his own life that we might live eternally. Let us pray: Almighty Creator and heavenly Father thank you for your Creation.  We praise you as Sovereign over all.  Open our eyes to the reality of your kingship all around us, to your love that is evidenced not only in our creation but in our redemption, that we might be moved to give you glory, to worship you, to be obedient and to show your love, and to declare your greatness to the world.  We ask this in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Forming the Formless

April 29, 2012
Bible Text: Genesis 1:3-13 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Genesis Forming the Formless Genesis 1:3-12 by William Klock We left off last week with Genesis 1:2.  The earth was formless and void—a great, dark, chaotic watery abyss.  Everything about it was antithetical to human life, but God was getting ready to create—to bring order and to make the earth not only ready, but perfect for human habitation.  Verse 2 ends by telling us that the Spirit of God—the great architect—was hovering over the face of the waters.  Remember that Genesis 1 describes God building a temple for himself.  Just as his Spirit was given to Bezalal to build the tabernacle, God’s earthly temple, here his Spirit is the architect of his cosmic temple. Before we go any further remember the context of Genesis 1.  Remember the original audience.  The core of Genesis was written for the Israelites as they were leaving pagan Egypt and preparing to conquer pagan Canaan, the land that God had promised to Abraham, their father.  For them the story reinforced that their God, Yahweh, was not just the personal God of Abraham, but he was also the Creator and Sovereign of all things.  And the story reminds them and assures them of God’s covenant promise to them: that he has called them to be his holy people, that he has promised to make them a great nation, and that he has promised them the land they’re about to enter.  And then remember that the various parts of the story were put together as we have them while the people of Judah were in exile in Babylon.  As a people they had nearly been destroyed.  The ten northern tribes no longer existed as a people and the southern tribes of Benjamin and Judah were separated and decimated.  The Babylonians had destroyed the temple—the place where they worshipped God and made sacrifices for their sins.  And on top of that they had been exiled from the land that God had promised them.  And so there by the waters of Babylon they gathered together their history: the books of the law that had been given to Moses by God and the records of their judges and their kings; and with the Spirit’s guidance they put together the story—the story that starts here in Genesis 1.  It was a story to remind them of God’s covenant promises to them; a story to remind them that God was still in control; and a story to remind them that despite their sins and despite their having been punished, they were still God’s people. Now, back to Chapter 1.  Right here at the beginning these assurances hit us between the eyes.  It doesn’t come across in English, but verse 2 uses a very important word when it talks about the “earth”.  It’s the Hebrew word eres.  In English we translate it sometimes as “earth” and sometimes as “land”, but this is the same word that’s used later to describe the land that God promised to his people.  There’s a sense here, then, in which this isn’t just about God preparing the entire planet for general human habitation—he is doing that—but the Israelites would have seen that this is a parallel to God’s preparing a very specific land for them.  So this isn’t just about God’s loving care and provision for everyone; this is also the story of Israel—of God’s people—and so it’s a story of redemption.  And right here at the beginning God’s Spirit is waiting and ready to give God’s good gifts to his people. Before we get into today’s text we should address the “days” that are described in Genesis 1.  First we should address the issue of what the “days” are.  Lots of Christians have made a big deal out of these six or seven “days”.  On one hand there are Christians who insist on taking these days “literally” as six twenty-four hour days.  They’re often called “Young Earth Creations” and they usually insist that the earth is about 6,000 years old—based on what they call a “literal” interpretation of the text.  Other Christians see the compelling scientific evidence for the cosmos and the earth both being billions of years old and try to accommodate the text to that; they see the “days” here as symbolic.  For them each day could have been a billion years. Let me address the “day-equals-an-age” idea first.  This is a good-intentioned attempt to reconcile the Bible with the scientific evidence we have for an old earth.  The problem is that the words and grammar in Genesis 1 simply don’t allow for this interpretation.  The days here really are actual days.  If we try to accommodate them to long ages or periods of time we’re twisting and abusing the text.  In contrast, the first group gets it right in terms of what the days are.  The problem with the “literalists” isn’t their understanding of the days, it’s that they impose a modern, materialistic way of thinking onto the text when they assume this means that God actually created in six twenty-four hours days.  They forget that these six days are part of a story told using ancient cosmological language and that it’s a story meant to tell us about the function and purpose of the Creation, not a story meant to tell us about the material origins of the cosmos.  The real significance of the days—and we need to remember that there are sevendays here, not just the six that are so often the focus of our attention—the significance of these days is that they express the ideas and language of temple building.  Genesis 1 is an account of God building his cosmic temple and it’s told in the functional language of ancient cosmology. He took six days to create it, shaping it and filling it with the implements of worship and creating a people of priests to worship him within it, and then finally on the seventh day he moved in, he took up his “rest”, which in the ancient world meant he took up control and supervision of this cosmos he had created.  So long as he was there everything was ordered, everything ran as he designed it, and life was good for his people. The six days on which God does his work break down into two sets of three days—two triads.  And each of these triads addresses the original state of the earth.  Remember verse 2 tells us that before God created, the earth was tohu wabohu—it was formless and void.  In the first three-day set God addresses the formlessness of the earth.  In the second three-day set he addresses that it was void.  And in each set of days we see Creation moving from heaven down to earth.  The first three days move from the creation of light to the creation of the sky to the creation of dry land.  God gives shape to what was formless.  The second three-day set moves from the creation of the heavenly bodies—sun, moon, and stars—to the birds that fill the sky to the animals—and finally human beings—who fill the dry land.  God fills what was void with life.  In the first triad he creates domains; in the second triad he fills each domain and gives dominion over it to the functionaries he’s created to fill it.  The sun, moon, and stars have dominion over the heavens; birds and fish have dominion over the sky and sea; animals have dominion over the land; and, finally, human beings have dominion over all of Creation. This morning we’ll be looking at the first set of three days, which begins with verse 3: And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.  (Genesis 1:3-5) Both Christians and Jews have struggled with this text for thousands of years.  How could God create light on the first day when he doesn’t create the sun until the fourth day?  We looked at this in our first sermon two weeks ago.  We need ask: “Why does God call the light he created “day”?  And the answer to that question leads us back to the conclusion that what God is creating here isn’t light and dark, but day and night—more specifically the cycle of day and night that we call time—the system by which we measure life.  This underscores what I’ve been stressing the last couple of Sunday:  We need to see Genesis not as a description of material creation—which is how our modern scientific mindset pushes us to think of it—but as a description of functional creation—a story that describes not where things came from or how God made them in technical or scientific terms, but a story that tell us why God made things and what function and purpose God has given them.  This is the interpretation that makes the best sense of the text itself, but it’s also the way we know the ancient Israelites thought—it was their mindset or worldview. So here on Day One, God creates time and then the text tells us that God saw that it was good.  And God’s seeing that it was good is important.  We’ll find this idea of God “seeing” throughout Genesis, because “seeing” is at the centre of the author’s concept of God.  The very first title that is given to God in the Bible is by Hagar, Sarah’s slave.  She calls God El Roi, which means “God who sees”.  Abraham calls the place where God provided a lamb in place of Isaac for the altar “The Lord will see”.  God sees the needs of his people.  Now, what’s really interesting is that the Hebrew word for “see” is also the word for “provide”.  God sees and provides.  God saw Hagar in the desert and provided for her.  God saw Isaac on the altar and provided an alternative sacrificial lamb.  God also sees evil and brings judgement.  In Chapter 6 God sees the depraved nature of human beings and provides a flood to wipe their evil from the earth.  But brothers and sisters, God also sees the same sinfulness in us; he sees our need for a Redeemer and so he provides his own Son.  But it starts here.  God sees the chaos, he sees that it’s not good because it’s antithetical to human life, and so he provides form and as he provides that form and purpose he sees that his provision is good.  Creation glorifies its Creator and shows his goodness. Now, Day Two.  Look at verses 6 to 8: And God said,  “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”  And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so.  And God called the expanse Heaven.  And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. This has been another difficult passage.  What’s this “expanse” (or “firmament” in the older translations)?  Ancient people believed that there was a solid dome over the earth that held up a heavenly sea.  That’s why the sky is blue and that’s where rain comes from.  And yet for hundred of years we’ve known that there’s no solid dome over the earth.  Just as some Christians have tried to accommodate the “days” of Genesis 1 to account for the old age of the cosmos, many also try to reinterpret what the Hebrew word here means, but again we need to remember that to do that is to twist and abuse the text.  We just need to remember that God spoke in the language of his people, even when it came to how they understood the structure of the cosmos.  So what we see here is God taking control of the waters of the abyss.  He separates the waters with this “expanse”—some below and some above.  This was the sky as ancient people understood it, but more specifically here God’s creating the mechanism for weather.  Life can’t survive without rain and so here God puts that important system in place. What’s interesting is that God doesn’t make a declaration about this day being good.  All the other days we see that phrase repeated: “God saw that it was good”, but not on Day Two.  Why is that?  God’s created the sky, but there’s still no habitable dry land.  After the second day the land was still formless and void and so it’s only after the third day, when God separates the seas and calls forth the land that we see his pronouncement of goodness. Look at Day Three in verses 9-10: And God said,  “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.  God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. God separated the waters and called forth dry land—a place for human beings to live.  Have you noticed that on each of these three days God separates something?  Light from dark, waters below from waters above, and now land from water.  God’s provision and sustenance by separation is a key theme in Genesis.  It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Israelites feared the sea.  To them it represented the original chaos of the uncreated world.  Like the wilderness or the desert it was “formless and void”—it did not nurture human life.  In Noah’s flood God reverses this separation and allows the waters to flood back over the land and that flood results in the destruction of life.  In the Exodus we see God separate the waters of the Red Sea, giving dry land to his people and saving them from the Egyptians—whom he then drowns by reversing that separation—another mini-flood.  This theme of separation points us to God’s covenant.  He called Abraham out of Ur, separating him from a pagan people in order to make him into a holy nation; he called the Israelites out of Egypt, again, separating them from a pagan people, and at Sinai he gave them his law so that they could be a holy people; and brothers and sisters, through the Cross, God calls to us; he separates us from sin and death and makes new life to grow in us. And notice that God gives life through his Word.  Here in Genesis it’s his spoken Word that has creative, life-giving power.  God speaks and we have time; God speaks and we have a sky and weather; God speaks and we have dry land; again, God speaks and we have sun and moon; Gods speaks and we have fish and birds; God speaks and we have animals; and finally, God speaks and we have human beings.  The full realisation of the significance of God’s Word was given in the Incarnation—God’s Word made flesh in order to give fullness of life to those who had rejected it.  St. John tells us: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  (John 1:1-4) And yet the Word himself is known, his mission of redemption is known as God speaks to us through his Word written.  His Spirit was the architect of Creation who worked through the life-giving power of his Word; his Spirit leads us to life as he unites us to Jesus Christ; and his Spirit teaches us the way to the Cross as he speaks to us through the written Word.  God’s Word gives life! Back to Day Three.  Notice that it doesn’t end with barren dry land.  Look at verses 11-13: And God said,  “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so.  The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. Human beings need dry land—we need a place to live—but we also need something to eat, and so we see God providing for that need.  The emphasis here is not on plants or vegetation in general; it’s on edible plants and on a system of agriculture.  The Hebrew words used here are specifically the words associated with fruit trees and grasses that produce grain.  This isn’t talking about the creation of fir trees or rose bushes, oaks or ivy, it’s about sources of food.  It’s not that God didn’t create firs and oaks and roses and ivy—those are as much a part of his Creation as olive trees and wheat, but the point of the account here is that God has provided human beings with the things we need for life.  That’s why he saw and declared it good. That’s as far as I want to go today.  As I said, there are two “triads” of days here.  In these first three days we’ve seen God give form to what was formless.  Next week we’ll watch as he takes these static spheres he’s made and fills them with life—taking what was void and filling it full.  But again, we’ll see the emphasis of the text is on God’s provision for life; we’ll see God taking into account the needs of human beings—he sees—and then we’ll see him taking the necessary steps to make the land good by providing to meet that need. God is good.  Genesis 1 teaches us that the Creation is an outpouring of God’s love and generosity.  God isn’t just the Almighty Creator, the great King and the great Sovereign over all things; Genesis shows us that he is just as much a loving Father who sees our needs and provides for us.  As Jesus reminds us: If our Father so beautifully clothes the lilies of the field and if he cares for the little sparrows, will he not even more see the needs of his human children and provide?  If we ever doubt his provision we need only consider that while we were sinners, even when we had rejected his love and become his enemies, he saw our need and spared not his only Son that we might have life.  Our God is truly Hagar’s El Roi, the God who sees, the God who provides.  Our response should be to lift our praises to him.  I’d like to you to join me in the closing prayer as we stand and sing the Doxology: Praise God, from whom all blessing flow; Praise him, all creatures here below; Praise him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Amen.
Bible Text: Genesis 1:14-31 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Genesis Filling the Void Genesis 1:14-31 by William Klock This morning we’ll be continuing our look at Genesis 1 with Days Four through Six, which you’ll find covered in verses 14 to 31.  Before we get into today’s text, let’s recap some important points we’ve seen over the past few weeks. First, remember that Genesis 1 gives us a view of God creating the cosmos as a temple for himself.  Each of these first six days shows him giving it shape: laying the foundation, building the walls, putting a roof over it; then he furnishes it with the instruments of worship and creates priests to worship him in the temple.  Finally on the seventh day, God himself “rests”—he enters his temple and takes up his residence there, overseeing it, governing it, and caring for it.  Genesis 1 gives us a view of Creation from a very different standpoint than we’re used to.  We like to think of Creation in terms of material origins.  Genesis 1 speaks in the language of the ancient world.  They weren’t interested in where things came from or the technical details of how things came into being—that wasn’t their mindset.  No, they wanted to know “How?” and “Why?”  And so Genesis 1 shows us Creation from a functional standpoint.  It shows us the purpose of Creation, which is ultimately God’s glory. Verse 2 showed us the uncreated earth.  It was a dark, watery abyss—the utter opposite of what is good for human life.  The text says it was “formless and void”—it served no useful purpose and there was nothing about it that showed God’s glory.  Last Sunday we looked at verses 3 through 12, the first three “days”.  And on those days we saw God giving form and shape to what was formless.  He created a cycle of day and night from the darkness on Day One.  On Day Two he separated the waters below from the waters above to create a place where he could create dry land.  And then on Day Three we saw him separate the waters below and raise up dry land, which he then covered with plants that are good for food.  And as he saw his handiwork, he proclaimed it “good”.  It wasn’t just good that God’s temple was taking shape.  That is good.  But more specifically, God called it good because what had been formless and void, what had been antithetical to human life, was now becoming habitable for human beings.  God created us to glorify him and whatever supports us in our living for him is good.  God sees a need and he provides.  Remember that the Hebrew word “to see” also means “to provide”.  God never does one without also doing the other. Now, the next three days—Four, Five, and Six—parallel the first three days.  God has formed what was formless.  He’s created static spheres: the heavens, the sky and the sea, and the land.  In this second three-day set we’re going to see him fill each of those static spheres with life.  Think of the temple analogy again.  God has built the building, now he’s going to furnish it.  Look at verses 14-19: And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.  And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.  And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. One the first day God created a cycle of day and night by which we can measure time.  Here on Day Four he now fills that cycle of day and night with functionaries.  And it’s their function, not their material origin or composition, that is the focus.  These verses show God placing the sun, moon, and stars on the surface of the firmament or expanse that holds back the heavenly sea.  He sets them in their courses, the sun to rule or govern the day and the moon to rule or govern the night and together all these heavenly lights, he says, are to be signs—to show us—the passing of days and of years and of seasons. God gives these heavenly lights a role to play in the temple, but notice that their role is a supporting role for the human beings he hasn’t created yet.  Birds and fish and animals take note of day and night, but only human beings take note of the passing years.  And the word “seasons” that we see in verse 14 is especially important.  When we think of seasons we think of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, but the Hebrew word used here points to the seasonal religious festivals that God have commanded his people to observe.  It points to the priestly role that human beings are going to have in the temple as they worship God.  The sun and moon and stars are part of the life giving order of the cosmos, but they’re also there to help us as we worship and give glory to our Creator. This is also one of the places in Genesis where we see God directing his people toward a new way of thinking and of seeing the Creation.  In the pagan nations that surrounded the Israelites the heavenly bodies were often thought to be gods.  Here God shows his people that there’s nothing divine about the sun, moon, and stars; they’re part of the created order, they’re subject to the spoken command of God.  This is probably why the text doesn’t name these lights; they’re just lights, or the “lesser” and “greater” lights.  In the ancient world the sun and moon and other heavenly bodies were called by the names of gods.  God reminds the people here that they’re just “lights”, just created things.  He also directs the people away from astrology and a worldview that sees the heavenly bodies as somehow controlling or directing the lives of human beings.  God shows them that these lights in the sky have no such power, they simply govern the cycle of day and night, they help us track the passing of time, and they show us those times throughout the year when we gather to offer our formal worship to our Creator.  And after all this,  at the end of Day Four, God sees these heavenly lights running their courses across the firmament and he declares his work to be good.  He’s provided for the needs of his people-priests. Now look at verses 20 to 23.  On Day Two God had separated the waters below from the waters above.  Think of it like a snow globe but with the water on the outside and the air on the inside.  Day Five parallels Day Two as God fills the sky and the sea. And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.”  So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.  And God blessed them, saying,  “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”  And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. God fills the empty sky with birds and he fills the empty sea with fish and he gives them all their functions: he commands them to be fruitful and multiply.  That’s they’re function in his temple.  In modern scientific terms we might talk about the functions of all these different birds and fishes specifically.  The more we learn about nature the more we learn how interconnected everything is.  Birds often carry the seeds that spread the plants.  The fish feed the birds that soar through the sky.  But for that whole system to work, those birds and fish have to be fruitful and multiply.  One species dies off or is hunted to extinction and it upsets the whole system.  God obviously knows what he’s doing—there’s purpose to everything and so he calls it “good”. One thing that will escape our notice as modern readers is the attention the verse 21 gives specifically to what the ESV calls “the great sea creatures.”  The Hebrew word literally refers to sea monsters or sea dragons—to mythical creatures that people of the ancient near east believed to inhabit the sea.  Remember that these people feared the sea—it represented the chaotic primordial abyss that existed before their gods gave form and function to the earth.  To them the sea was the last vestige of that chaos that was antithetical to human life—the sea was territory outside the created order, maybe not totally void, but still formless—and it was prowled by great monsters that represented that chaos.  In Mesopotamian mythology the sea monsters were the enemies of the gods who gave order.  That was the worldview that surrounded the Israelites and so here God corrects them; he shows them the truth of his Creation.  The sea is his as much as the land is.  He’s filled the sea with fish and given them dominion over it and even whatever great sea monsters might be lurking out there in the depths, even they are his.  They aren’t his enemies, out of his control in some great cosmic battle between order and chaos; they are his creatures and even they are part of the good he has created. Finally on Day Six God fills the empty land with his creatures, but he does it in two phases: first animals and then human beings.  Look first at verses 24 and 25: And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so.  And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. The creation of animals parallels the creation of the fish and birds.  As they filled the sea and the sky, so the animals fill the land. Verse 24 covers the full range of animals: “livestock” or “cattle” refers to the domesticated animals we eat for food, “creeping things” refers to undomesticated animals that run in herds, and “beasts” refers to the great carnivores and beasts of prey.  Again, animals play an important role in nature.  More importantly for human beings, they serve as a source of food and as helpers in our work, and so God sees his handiwork and calls it good.  But one thing that’s conspicuously absent here is the giving of dominion.  God gave dominion over day and night to the heavenly lights, he gave dominion of the sea to the fish and of the sky to the birds, but he doesn’t give dominion of the land to the animals.  God has bigger plans for the land.  Look at verses 26-31: Then God said,  “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”           So God created man in his own image,                   in the image of God he created him;                    male and female he created them.  And God blessed them. And God said to them,  “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”  And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit.  You shall have them for food.  And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.  And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Humanity is the culmination of God’s work.  Everything else up to this point has been “good” because it has prepared the way for human beings.  We see the importance of this right from the start. With everything else, from the creation of the day to the creation of the animals, the text introduces each creative act with the words, “And God said” followed by his creative command.  But here there’s deliberation: “And God said, ‘Let us make man.’”  That points out that humanity is different from everything else so far.  God also addresses his heavenly court before he creates this time.  In each of the other instances God worked alone, but now he gathers an audience.  He says “Let us”.  It’s tempting to think of “let us” as a reference to the Trinity, but the other four times in the Old Testament that this same grammatical construction is used are almost certainly not references to the Trinity, but to the heavenly court.  This isn’t denying the Trinity, it’s just that the Trinity isn’t the focus of this particular text.  God’s preparing to play his finale here and so he gathers an audience.  And note too that before he creates human beings God describes what he’s going to do.  Humanity is to be created in his image.  The animals were created “according to their kinds” but humanity is created in God’s image—in a sense, according to his divine kind. Why are we created in God’s image?  Remember the temple-building theme.  The heavens and the sea and land are the building, the heavenly lights, the birds and fish, and the animals are like the furnishing or the implements used in worship, but human beings are the priests.  God creates us to know him, to be in fellowship with him, to worship him, and to give him glory.  And that’s why God sees the creation of human beings and doesn’t just call it good; this time he calls it “very good.” In pagan cultures idols of wood or stone bore the image of the gods and represented the gods to the people.  And in the pagan creation myths human beings were created as an afterthought.  The cosmos was created for the benefit of the gods and it was only after they were finished that they created humans, usually to be their slaves and to do the work that the gods were too lazy to do.  Genesis paints a very different picture.  God created the earth specifically for us.  He separated the waters and called forth the dry land for us.  He put the heavenly lights in the sky and created bird and fish and animals for us—for our benefit, for our well-being, for our life.  And then he created us in his image.  Again, why?  That we might know him; that we might be able to identify with him.  We’re not dumb brutes called to worship a god we can never understand.  He gave us ears that might know that he hears our cry.  He gave us eyes that we might know that he sees our pain.  He gave us his image that we might worship him not as some unknowable and violent volcano god to be feared, but as a loving Creator who takes an active and caring role in the lives of his people. God’s creation, in that sense, is human-centred.  We’re the focus and the pinnacle of Creation.  But God did this for a reason.  He created us and makes provision for our life so that our attention can be centred on him—not as slaves, but as children to a loving Father and as creatures to a caring Creator.  Other gods created human beings as slaves; our God created us as his priests.  He provides for us that we might be free to give him our loving and faithful service.  The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?”  And answer is that “[t]he chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”  That’s our purpose in Creation.  Consider that even when we rejected God and rejected his loving gifts and his care for us, when we made him our enemy, he sent his own Son to be a sacrifice for our sins that we might be restored to his fellowship and return to his worship as his priests, his holy people.  Jesus died so that we can return to God and return to the priestly role for which we were created.  And consider what Scripture tells us about the end of the story—about the culmination of Creation and redemptive history.  The New Testament tells us that in the New Jerusalem darkness and the abyss will be no more—there will be nothing left in Creation that is antithetical to human life—death and sin will be swallowed up in victory; all pain and suffering will be gone and every tear will be dried so that God’s people might live eternally to worship him and to give him glory—to serve as his priests—as we were created to do.  Do you ever think of that?  So often we take Creation for granted.  God established the cosmos to meet our needs that we might be free to give him glory.  How often do we take the Cross for granted?  Remember, brothers and sisters, that Jesus sacrificed himself that we might once again live to give God glory.  And how often do we think of the New Jerusalem solely as a place created for our enjoyment and forget that there God will perfectly meet every need so that we can live eternally before his face to give him glory?  Friends, if we would be ready for heaven, let us spend our lives as God intended for us; let us be devoted to him, let us be his priests, representing him to the world as his image bearers.  Let us give him glory through our own thanks and praise, through our loving obedience, and let us cause the world to give him glory as it sees his image in us. Let us pray.  Almighty God, our loving Father and our caring Creator, thank you for the life you have given us.  We thank you for the gift of your Creation.  We thank you for providing for our needs that we might be free to glorify you with our lives.  We give you even greater thanks for offering your only Son as a sacrifice for our sins that we might be forgiven and return to lives of worship.  Forgive us, Father, for the times when we take your provision for granted.  Give us grace to remember that you have created us to give you glory through our worship and by faithfully bearing your image to the world.  We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

God is in Control

May 13, 2012
Bible Text: Genesis 2:1-3 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Genesis God is in Control Genesis 2:1-3 by William Klock If you’ve got your Bibles with you this morning—and I hope you always do—open them to Genesis 2.  We’ll be looking at the first three verses this morning.  But let me point out: We’re starting a new chapter, but this is still the same text that we’ve been looking at in Genesis 1.  Remember that the chapter and verse breaks in our Bibles are not part of the inspired text; they were added in the Middle Ages to make the Bible more user-friendly.  For the most part that’s what they do, but occasionally they break up the text where they shouldn’t.  This is one of those unfortunate chapter breaks—it cuts Day Seven off from Days One through Six.  The natural break actually comes with verse 4, which we’ll get to next week.  So remember, we’re still dealing with the Genesis 1 account of Creation here.  And remember that Genesis 1 (and the first three verses of Chapter 2) serves not just as an introduction or prologue to the book of Genesis, but to the whole Bible.  Genesis breaks down into a dozen books or chapters that tell the stories of Adam and Noah and Abraham on through to Joseph, but this is the prologue that sets the scene and gives us the foundation on which the rest of the story is built.  And as I pointed out when we started, we need to be looking through the right lens when we read Genesis 1.  We need to read it and understand it as the ancient Israelites would have read and understood it.  To impose our modern Western mindset on Genesis is to abuse the text.  As we’ve seen over these last four weeks, that means we need to understand that this isn’t a materialistic account of origins.  It’s a story of Creation that explains things from the standpoint of function and purpose and that does so, not in scientific language, but in a sort of liturgical language that describes God’s creative work in terms of his building a cosmic temple. Before God created the earth was a dark, watery abyss.  It was formless and void; it had no function and no purpose.  And then over the course of six days, God first gave form to what was formless—forming a temple for himself out of the uncreated elements over the first three days—and then he filled what was void—he filled the temple with the instruments and functionaries of his worship.  We saw that the creation of human beings was the culmination of God’s creation—creatures made in his image that we might know him, that we might worship him as his priests, and that we might give him glory in his temple.  This is the foundation for the rest of Scripture; this is the “worldview” on which the Bible is built. But suddenly we get to Day Seven and the story changes gears.  Look at verses 1 to 3: Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. For six days we’ve seen God working; now he stops and rests.  If we take Genesis 1 as a materialistic story of Creation, Day Seven seems out of place, especially in light of all the teaching about the Sabbath we see in the rest of the Old Testament.  God’s been working, making, creating; now the text switches to telling us about something theological.  From a materialistic standpoint it’s anticlimactic.  For six days God did these amazing things, commanding the cosmos into existence!  Oh, yeah…and then he took a nap on Saturday.  But, brothers and sisters, that’s not how ancient people would have understood this.  They knew this was a temple text and if there was any doubt about that being what this is, Day Seven cinches it.  In fact, if we see this as a story about God building himself a temple, Day Seven isn’t just an epilogue or an afterthought; Day Seven is actually the most important day in the story.  This morning we’ll look first at what it means for God to “rest” in his temple, and then we’ll look at what this means in practical terms for us. So, first, what does the text mean when it tells us that God rested? There’s a lot packed into these words that we miss in our English translations.  Verses two and three actually tells us twice that God rested and they use the Hebrew word sabat—it’s the word from which we get Sabbath.  But what does it mean?  When you and I think of “rest” we usually think in terms of disengagement—of doing nothing.  Those of us who aren’t retired spend our weeks working.  When the weekend comes we’re often tired and so we leave our work behind, we go home, and we unplug.  We do all sorts of things, from taking a nap to playing sports to spending time with family, but the key point is that we disengage from “work”.  Stay-at-home mums spend their days looking after children and taking care their homes.  For Mum to rest means to disengage from housework and childcare.  When our work is finished for the hour or for the day or for the week, we disengage. That’s how most of us think of rest.  And sabat tends to carry that sort of meaning: On Day Seven God rested in the sense that he completed the work that he had done on the other six days. But sabat isn’t the only word at work here.  God completed his work and that leads him into a new activity.  In Exodus 20 God gives the Ten Commandments to Moses and in verse 11, when he explains the Sabbath to the Israelites God says this: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:11 also describes God resting on the seventh day, but this time it’s not sabat, it’s the Hebrew word nuha.  Nuha describes entering into a state of safety and security and stability.  Nuha is a verb; when it’s formed into a noun it describes the place where safety, security, and stability are found.  The idea is that in sabat God rested by ceasing or completing his work and then he moved into a fuller kind of rest—nuha—represented by stability and security. But this goes further.  Nuha happens in a certain place.  We see this in Psalm 132:7-8 and 13-14, which describe this second kind of rest in terms of the temple in Jerusalem. “Let us go to his dwelling place;   let us  worship at his  footstool!”  Arise, O Lord, and go to your resting place,   you and the ark of your  might.  For the Lord has chosen Zion;   he has  desired it for his dwelling place:  “This is my resting place forever;   here I will dwell, for I have desired it. God’s dwelling place is his temple.  When Solomon completed it, God’s presence descended to rest on the ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies.  The temple was his footstool, it was his resting place.  Psalm 132 pulls all these ideas together: God’s rest, his temple, and his sitting on his throne.  His “ceasing” (sabat) in Genesis 2:2 leads to his “rest” on the seventh day, described in Exodus 20:11, and his “rest” takes place in his “resting place” here in the psalm, which also shows us that God’s resting place is his temple.  God created the cosmos as a temple for himself and when it was finished, he took up residence in it and from it he reigns and rules—that’s his “rest”.  Rest in this sense isn’t about disengagement or doing nothing, it’s about ruling over and sustaining what God has made. We also need to ask what this biblical idea of rest looks like when it’s applied to human beings.  To see that we can look at God’s promise to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 12:10: But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety. Defeating your enemies will certainly allow you time to relax and disengage, but more importantly, Israel’s defeat of her enemies means that her people can go about their lives in peace, safety, and stability.  It’s hard to raise a family or plant crops during a war, but with God having ended the war and brought peace—with him looking out for you—you can get on with your life and your worship of him. That’s what this kind of rest is about.  It’s engaged rest, not disengaged rest.  It’s about God reigning in his temple as sovereign over Creation.  And that answers the old question: What did God do on the eighth day.  If we look at Genesis 1 as an account of material origins we’ll tend to see these seven days as all being in the past: At some point, a long time ago, God created the cosmos and then took a break.  But if we understand Genesis 1 from the standpoint of function and purpose we see that this isn’t strictly telling us about what happened in the past; it’s showing us God’s continuing care and sustenance of his Creation—his continuing engagement in it.  Brothers and sisters, this is the setup for the rest of what we’ll read in Scripture. This is what makes sense of the whole story of redemption: God never disengages from what he has made. Now, if Day Seven is about God resting in his temple, and if that rest is about God ruling and sustaining and engaged with his Creation, what does that mean for us?  More specifically, what does it mean for us to observe the Sabbath? We looked at Exodus 20:11 earlier.  That’s part of the text in which God gave Israel the Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.  (Exodus 20:8-11) We see the commandment to keep the Sabbath reiterated throughout the Old Testament.  Later on, God gives the Israelites rules detailing how to keep the Sabbath and how to punish those who fail to keep it.  By the time of Jesus the rabbis, whom we have to credit for at least being zealous in their desire to keep the law, had made up a whole host of strict rules to help people to observe the Sabbath—rules which Jesus condemned as adding to the law and making it a burden.  And yet we see that Jesus, as a good Jew, observed the Sabbath.  At the same time, we note that of all the Ten Commandments, the keeping of the Sabbath is the only one not said to be binding on Christians in the New Testament.  In Colossians 2:16 St. Paul warns Christians not to judge brothers and sisters based on whether or not they observe Jewish dietary laws, observe the Old Testament feasts, or keep the Sabbath.  The conclusion for us is that while the command to keep the Sabbath is no longer binding on Christians, there’s also a Sabbath principle here that goes all the way back to Creation and that teaches us something about our relationship with God and our worship of him. The Sabbath principle reminds us every time we rest from our labour that our God, the Creator of the cosmos, is in control: that he sits on his throne, that he is sovereign over his Creation, that he’s engaged with that Creation, and that he cares for it.  We read that as he created, he declared his creation “good”.  Why?  Because his goal was to create a race of priests who would live in his presence and worship him.  Every step of his creative work that brought things closer to the point of sustaining the life of those priests was “good”.  In that sense the focus of Creation is humanity so that humanity’s focus can be on God and giving him the glory he deserves.  Creation teaches us that God sees what we need and that he never sees without providing.  And his own Sabbath reminds us that his provision wasn’t simply part of his creative act long, long ago, but that as long as he sits on his heavenly throne, as long as he rules his Creation, he is always engaged with it—with us—and will never fail to provide for us. In that sense, for us to observe the Sabbath principle is to exercise our faith in him as Creator and Sustainer.  It’s similar to the tithing principle.  God commanded the Israelites to contribute one tenth of all their produce and all their revenue back to him.  That money went to support the ministry of his priests and his temple, but the point in giving it wasn’t so much that God needed it for his ministry, but to teach his people to exercise faith in his provision and to remind them that one hundred per cent of everything they had came from him in the first place.  To give back that ten per cent was a statement of faith that said: “God, you are my Creator; you are my Sustainer.  Everything I have comes from you and I trust you to provide for everything I need, and so I’m giving back to you a tenth of what is already yours and I trust you to continue to provide.”  Even when times were hard and income was low, the tithe was still commanded and it was in those times that giving back that produce or that revenue of God was a strong statement of faith in his provision. In a very similar way, the Sabbath principle teaches us to trust in God for our sustenance as well.  Consider that there was no such thing as a “weekend” in the ancient world.  Most people worked seven days a week in order to meet their needs.  It was a radical idea for God to tell the Israelites to work only six days.  You and I live in a culture where a five-day work week is the norm.  Our tendency is to see the Sabbath simply as a much-needed break from work—a day of rest.  But, brothers and sisters, in the ancient world, to take one day off each week was a statement of faith in God’s promise of provision.  To observe the Sabbath is to declare faith in God our Provider. Like the tithe, the Sabbath principle is no longer binding on Christians.  The New Testament teaches us to give, not just ten per cent, but to give generously and proportionately.  And similarly, the New Testament teaches us that all of our days belong to God: our rest days and our work days.  No longer are we tied to a legalistic observance of a specific day of the week as our Sabbath.  In fact, New Testament Christians took this release from a strict observance of a seventh-day Sabbath to declare the first day of the week to be a sort of “Christian Sabbath” in honour of the Resurrection of Jesus. The first Christians understood very well what we sometime forget: Jesus is the key to understanding the Sabbath.  The Gospels tell us how Jesus and his disciple were berated by the Pharisees for picking some grain on the Sabbath.  That’s when Jesus condemned their legalistic Sabbath rules and gave us those words: “The Sabbath was created for human beings, not human beings for the Sabbath.”  But more importantly, in his dispute with the Pharisees he declared that “the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath.”  Jesus has fulfilled the very idea of the Sabbath.  The Sabbath is about our resting in the security of God’s care and provision.  Brothers and sisters, you and I can rest secure in God’s care and provision in the fullest sense when we rest—when we place our faith and trust—in Jesus Christ.  Not only is he the Word of God who was there as Creation was spoken into existence, not only is he the one who gave life from the beginning, he is also the Saviour and Redeemer who has come back to restore us to the life we rejected when we chose to sin.  He is the one who has come to give up his own life because he has seen our need of redemption and the only way to provide for that need was to take the just wrath of God upon himself, taking our place on the Cross. So the Sabbath is about observing God’s provision.  It’s a statement of faith that we trust God to provide.  This is why Christians gather on the first day of the week.  We gather to read the Scripture and to recall the mighty acts of God in providing for our redemption, we sing and pray to praise God and to thank him for having provided for us—for our daily bread, for forgiving our sins, and for giving us new life—and we celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  At the Table God gives us a tangible reminder that he has given his very self, his body and blood, to give us new life, but he also gives us hope, because this Table here points us to his heavenly Table and to that great banquet where Creation will be fully restored from the effects of sin.  The Table here points us to a time when there will be no darkness and no abyss, when sin and death are defeated, when pain and suffering will be gone and every teary eye dried, as we sit forever before the face of God—to a time when we, his once wayward priests, will be restored to our original purpose and will worship in his presence eternally. When our service is ended we’re dismissed with the words “Go forth in peace to love and serve the Lord.”  Brothers and Sisters, that is our Sabbath.  As we gather here as God’s people we’re reminded of his provision—as we receive the Word Written in the Scriptures and the Word Incarnate in the Sacrament.  From this place we go forth refreshed and assured of God’s provision that we might rest secure in Christ, as we go about our daily business and ministry in his kingdom, knowing that God is forever seated in his temple, that he is forever in control, and anticipating that great day when Jesus Christ brings us to complete and everlasting rest in the New Jerusalem. Let us pray: Heavenly Father, we thank you for your gracious provision.  Help us to remember that all our days belong to you.  Let us live our days not as our own, but as belonging to you.  Let us truly rest in your provision, both for our daily bread and for the forgiveness of our sins, that the world might see our faith in you and give you the glory you deserve.  We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Gift of Life

May 20, 2012
Bible Text: Genesis 2:4-17 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Genesis The Gift of Life Genesis 2:4-17 by William Klock Last week we finished our look at the account of Creation that runs through the first chapter of Genesis and ends with 2:3.  We’ve seen how the seven days described there stand as a prologue to the book of Genesis and to the whole story of Redemption.  Genesis 1 describes God creating the cosmos as a temple for himself—a temple in which human beings serve him as his priests, giving him the glory he is due; and a temple where he rests; where he takes up his sovereign rule of Creation.  He shaped it, he ordered it, he gave it life, and now he continues to hold it in his hands, caring for it and sustaining it.  Genesis 1 gives us the foundational worldview of the Bible: God created the cosmos for human beings so that we can know him, fellowship with him, worship him, and glorify him.  Whatever furthers our serving him is “good” and so God sees our needs and he provides for them so that we can serve him, so that we can glorify him.  That’s the introduction.  The stage is set.  Now it’s time to get into the actual history of God taking care of his people. Look with me at Genesis 2:4.  We read there: These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. We’ll see these words, “these are the generations,” over and over in Genesis, because they’re used to introduce each of the major divisions of the book: “These are the generations (or descendants) of Adam” or “These are the generations of Noah” or “These are the generations of Abraham”.  Each book then describes that man’s story and leads us to the next story, which tells us about his sons, his “generations”.  The first story, which tells us about Adam, begins with “the heavens and the earth” because no human beings had yet been created. This introduction should cause us to shift some gears in our thinking.  Genesis 1 showed us the “big picture”.  Genesis 1 lets us stop outside of history—even outside the cosmos itself.  It gives us God’s perspective on Creation.  Before the story begins, Genesis 1 makes sure we know what God’s plan is—what he intended and what he purposed when he created and when he set history in motion.  Now in Genesis 2 history begins and we zoom in.  And as we zoom in we move from seeing the whole cosmos and from seeing all of history from a distance, to focusing our attention on a particular people and on a particular time.  The fact that the text talks about particular people and about their generations or descendants grounds us in history—the history of God caring for, sustaining, and rescuing his people. We see the shift in focus in part by how the text addresses God.  In Genesis 1 we read about Elohim.   It’s a name that describes God in all his majesty, but it’s also impersonal.  In contrast, here in 2:4, we read for the first time about Yahweh Elohim.  In our English Bibles it’s Lord God, with “Lord” all in capitals, or in some translations you’ll read Jehovah God.  Chapter 2 connects God the Creator with Yahweh, the Lord, the personal God of Abraham and the God who had rescued the Israelites from Egypt, taken them through the Red Sea on dry ground, and met them at Mt. Sinai to give them his law.  Again, we’re now moving into the story of redemptive history. But if this is history it raises all sorts of questions—some of them very difficult questions.  Even little kids in Sunday school see some of the difficulties here.  They read these early chapters and ask, “Where did Cain and Seth get their wives?” or “How did Cain build a city if his parents were the first two human beings?”  And those questions that children ask foreshadow the questions that we ask as adults.  How do we reconcile an historic “first pair” with modern scientific findings?  Geneticists tell us that the diversity of the human gene pool means that our race is descended not from two people but from a group of about 10,000.  If Adam was a special work of creation, how do we reconcile that with the evidence in our DNA that all life on earth shares a common ancestry?  These are hard questions and questions that have caused some people to doubt the trustworthiness of the Bible as God’s Word. I’ve observed that amongst Christians there are three primary ways we deal with these questions.  Many “liberals” deal with them simply by embracing the scientific consensus and throwing out Scripture.  That’s obviously not an option for us.  Many “conservatives” do the opposite: embracing Scripture and then either dismissing the scientific consensus or they twist the biblical text to accommodate science.  Those aren’t valid options either.  Positively, these folks rightly affirm the authority and truthfulness of the Bible, but if the Bible is right, then we also have to affirm that God created an ordered universe that can be reliably observed.  We may sometimes come to wrong (or partially wrong) conclusions based on incorrect data or because our data are limited, but the simple fact is that the scientific method isreliable and to simply dismiss it isn’t a position that’s compatible with what the Bible tells us about God and his Creation.  Twisting the text to force it to say something it wasn’t intended to say isn’t a valid option either.  Increasingly, I see a third group of Christians who want to affirm the authority and truthfulness of Scripture, but who aren’t willing to dismiss what science is telling us about the world and our origins.  These brothers and sisters understand that all truth is God’s truth, but haven’t been able to reconcile the Bible and science and so they live in a very frustrating state of cognitive dissonance.  Often the easiest thing to do is to chalk-up these early chapters of Genesis—Creation, Adam, the Flood, Babel—as ahistorical and symbolic stories and then see “real” history beginning with Abraham.  The problem is that not all of the “problems” end with Abraham.  If we approach biblical history—even the Gospels—and expect them to conform to our modern concept of history we’re going to run into problems. The solution is to remember that God speaks to human beings in human language—and not just language in the sense of Hebrew or Greek or English, but in our cultural language too.  Genesis 1 communicates the truths of God’s Creation in the language of ancient cosmology and so does Genesis 2.  But now that we’re moving into biblical history, we need to understand that God spoke his inspired and authoritative Word through ancient people who had an ancient understanding of history, an understanding that was different from our own.  Our modern idea of history is very much influenced by our materialistic and scientific mindset.  Our history is supposed to “tell it like it was” in plain language—“Just the facts, ma’am—and, at least in theory, our history is supposed to be unbiased.  (Although I challenge you to go out and find a truly unbiased history book.)  Ancient people were different.  (Or maybe not quite as different as we think!)  They wrote their histories with an agenda in mind—usually political or theological.  We see that in the Old Testament; this isn’t just history.  It isn’t just raw data; it’s history that shows the redemptive story of God’s people.  And ancient histories could include non-scientific accounts of historical events in order to explain things like purpose and function.  We want hard, scientific, and literal facts; ancient people spoke in symbols and metaphors and allegories.  We want Creation described in hard facts and scientific detail; they described that historic event using the symbolic language of God building himself a temple. Many of the conflicts between the Bible and science or archaeology are the result of Christians assuming that the Bible was written in our modern language or mindset.  As a result we expect the Bible to address things that weren’t part of the thinking or mindset of the people to whom God originally gave it.  When we do that we often read things into the text that are completely foreign to the thinking and mindset of the ancient people to whom it was first given.  Again, we need to remember one of the most basic rules of Bible reading: We need to ask first what the text meant to the people who originally heard it.  If it were written in our “language” or with our way of thinking in mind, it would have been nonsense not only to the people who heard it all those years ago, but also to the people through whom the Spirit communicated the Scriptures.  Bishop Wescott wrote more than a century ago: “The Bible is authoritative, for it is the Word of God; it is intelligible, for it is the word of man.”   Just as the Word became Incarnate in the person of Jesus, who was both God and human being, so the Word Written is God’s divine Word, but it’s communicated in human language and human thought patterns so that we can understand it. So what does this mean for Adam?  We have to grant that he is presented historically.  He’s part of the genealogy that eventually leads us to Abraham and to David and to Jesus.  At this point I think it’s unwise to completely dismiss the possibility that Adam was a real, historical person.  We need to exercise some humility and admit that we don’t yet have all the data.  But we also need to see that, historical or not, the Bible tells us about Adam in very symbolic language.  The danger of dwelling too much on what the Bible does not say about Adam is that we miss what it does say, and that’s where I want to spend the rest of our time this morning.  Look at verses 5 to 7: When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. The story starts with the uncreated earth.  There was land, but no vegetation—no “bush of the field”, which is a Hebrew way of describing wild-growing plants, and there was no “plant of the field”, which describes cultivated grains.  There was no source of water to nourish the plants either.  Most importantly, there were no human beings. These verses anticipate the purpose God gives to human beings.  We saw in Chapter 1 that the world is God’s temple and human beings are his priests, created to serve him, but what does that look like specifically?  Genesis 2 makes it clear that part of our service to God—part of our worship—involves the work of caring for his Creation. In fact, when verse 15 describes God placing Adam in the garden to work and keep it, the words used there are words that describe priestly work.  Work—even hard work—isn’t the result of the Fall.  Human beings were created for work. Work only became a burden as a result of our disobedience.  The text also points to the significance of human beings in the order of Creation.  Genesis 1 does this by placing our creation last.  Here God makes us first and then provides the things we need for life.  Both accounts make the same basic point: God cares for his people and provides the things they need in order to live and in order to serve him. The story starts with no plants, no water, and no human beings.  God begins by creating human life.  We’re given this image of God stooping down to the uncreated earth, taking a handful of it, creating a human being, and then giving him life by breathing his own breath into him.  This is one of those Old Testament passages that makes me wish that everyone could read the Hebrew text and that everyone could be familiar with the cultural context it comes from.  Between our tendency to want to see this in light of our materialistic and scientific worldview and what’s lost in translation from Hebrew to English it’s extremely easy for us to miss the amazing symbolism of what’s written here. First, we see God as the divine Potter, creating his people.  He creates “the man”; in Hebrew it’s “the adam”.  “Adam” isn’t just a proper name, it’s also the general word for “human being”.  An English equivalent might be to say that God created a man and called him “Manny” or he created a guy and called him “Guy”.  Adam is more than just an historical character in the story and he’s more than just the first human being; he’s the symbol of and the representative for the entire human race.  Adam is an Everyman.  The story also shows our connection with the earth.  God created Adam from the earth, but what we miss in English is that the word for “earth” is adama.  The best way to capture this in English might be to say that from the earth God created an “earthling”. And as we read this remember that the point of the story isn’t material origins—it’s not a scientific account of God literally creating human beings from dust.  The idea of the gods creating human beings from the earth is a common one in the Ancient Near East.  Remember that their concern was non-material—it was all about function and purpose—and the point was to communicate our creatureliness—our connection with the Creation and with the earth—and to communicate our mortality.  The earth is our cradle; the earth is our home; and the earth is our grave.  God created human beings to be mortal, at least so far as our phsyical bodies are concerned.  And yet, as much as creation from the dust was how many ancient people described human origins, the biblical story is also very unique.  In other ancient stories the gods create all humanity from the earth in a single act.  In stark contrast, Genesis shows us God creating a single human being.  Adam is symbolic for the rest of us, but the fact that Genesis gives us this picture of God personally creating Adam reminds us that God didn’t create humanity as an impersonal slave-race to do his bidding, but creates each of us, has a special and particular interest in each of us, and relates to each of us as individuals.  God knows you personally. But God didn’t just create Adam as a creature of the earth.  Verse 7 tells us that God brought Adam to life by breathing into him his own breath.  In Chapter 1 we read that God made us his image-bearers.  That’s the idea communicated here.  God breathed a living soul into this human being he had made from the earth.  In Hebrew it tells us that God breathed his nepes into Adam.  His nepes, his Spirit, was what hovered over the waters in Genesis 1 before the work of Creation began.  This is a reminder that God’s Spirit is our sustenance. So God has now created a human being, but where is Adam going to live?  Look with me at verses 8 and 9: And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.  And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.  The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam needs a place to live and a place to serve God, and so we read that God created a garden for him.  Its position in the east is symbolic of life and the word “garden” itself describe a place that’s fenced-off or protected and where plants that are good for food grow.  The garden is a place of blessing and well-being.  The name “Eden” describes luxuriance and delight.  The garden presents God’s temple in miniature.  God is uniquely present in the garden in a way that he’s not anywhere else.  Human beings can meet God in the garden; they can walk with him and talk with him.  When we read about the construction of the temple later in Israel’s history, one of the things we see is that the temple is designed as a symbolic representation of the garden.  It’s decorated with palm tree and flowers and guarded by cherubim. In verses 10 to 14 we read how a river watered the garden.  That was another of God’s provision for life.  Before he created we read that there was no rain, only a mist that seems connected to the chaotic waters in Chapter 1.  And yet the river not only waters the garden, it flows from the garden, splits into four rivers and flows out to water all the known earth of the time.  The river represents God’s life-giving grace and blessing flowing from his throne, from his temple, out to the rest of his Creation.  It’s the same imagery that Ezekiel uses to describe the establishment of an eternal temple through the coming of Jesus and it’s the imagery used in Revelation to describe the “river of life” flowing from the throne of God and from the lamb. Verse 9 tells us about two particular trees in the middle of the garden.  The first is the tree of life.  Human beings were created mortal—we’re of the dust—but so long as we lived in the garden—in God’s temple and in trusting, obedient fellowship with him, we could eat of the fruit of the tree of life and live forever.  Because of our sin, God removed us from the garden—from his temple and from his presence.  He took away our access to the Tree of Life.  And yet through faith in Jesus—through the Second Adam—we can once again enter the temple and at the Lord’s Table we receive again the sacrament of eternal life.  And yet even as we come to the Table, we know that our bodies are still mortal.  Here our souls are restored and here we receive the promise of immortality on that day when our redemption is consummated, when we enter the New Jerusalem and gather on the banks of the river—the river flowing from God’s throne and from the lamb—and once again eat of the Tree of Life, which stands beside the river. But verse 9 tells us about two trees.  The other is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  We read more about it in verses 15-17: The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” This tree represents wisdom and the ability to tell good from bad, the ability to make right decisions.  The tree represents knowledge that rightly belongs only to God.  To eat from the tree is to fall from innocence.  Think of it from the perspective of a parent.  Sadly, the older we get the more we learn about the evil present in the world.  Our children are innocent of that evil.  We take care of them.  We lay down simple rules to protect them.  We shelter them from the world’s evil—often from things so awful we wish we didn’t know about them ourselves.  Brothers and sisters, that’s how God created Adam.  That was his intent for humanity.  He created us innocent of evil—innocent even of the knowledge of a distinction between good and evil.  He simply wanted to provide for us so that we could worship him.  He created us as finite beings.  That means that we don’t have the ability to fully know right and wrong.  God is all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful; his knowledge is perfect, even of past, present, and future.  He knows perfectly what is right and what is wrong and he has the perfect wisdom to discern what will ultimately lead to good and what will lead to bad.  Even with Bible in hand and with the best of intentions, you and I can never discern good and evil as well as God can.  He didn’t design us for that burden.  To eat of that Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was to have innocence ripped away.  Think of taking your innocent child to witness a murder, or to shove a pornographic magazine into his hand, or to read him police blotters or court dockets instead of bedtime stories.  To eat of the tree was suddenly to know what sin is—that it exists, that it’s an option and a life-style choice, and it was suddenly to be inundated by the temptation that inevitably comes with the knowledge of sin.  This was not knowledge God created us to handle.  That’s why Adam was commanded not to eat of the tree. God created human beings to trust him for this kind of knowledge.  He created human beings innocent of right and wrong.  He gave Adam only one rule: “Don’t eat from this one tree” and God placed Adam in a temple-garden where he took care of his every need while Adam did the work of worship and service that he was created to do.  God’s single command to Adam reminds us that God’s intent was to protect us from taking his role on ourselves.  That’s what sin is: it’s to take God role of knowing good and evil on ourselves.  He created us to trust him for that knowledge.  When we sin, what we’re doing is rejecting his authority and his care for us and foolishly asserting our independence.  Sin is a declaration of unbelief.  And as we see here, God declares that the penalty for sin is death.  God gave us life on the condition we trust him.  In this sense to be removed from the Tree of Life is an appropriate punishment.  If we’re going to insist on autonomy, God gives it to us.  He removes us from his presence and from our source of eternal spiritual life. But thanks be to God, brothers and sisters, that God does not leave his people without hope of new life.  Just because we rejected his loving care doesn’t mean that his loving care for us ceases.  He saw our sin and saw our need for a Saviour and so he sent his only Son to take our punishment on himself.  Through faith in Jesus, we can be restored to life in God’s temple; we can be restored to service as his holy priests.  As we come to the Lord’s Table this morning, remember what you have lost because of your sin.  Remember that sin once removed us from God’s presence.  But remember too, as you take the bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus, that for we who have put our faith in Jesus—in his death and resurrection—these earthly creatures of bread and wine are signs and seals of the new life Jesus has given.  And as you take them, look up; remember that one day in the New Jerusalem faith will become sight as we live before the presence of God and of the lamb, as we sit beside that great river of his blessing and in the shade of the Tree of Life. Let us pray:  Lord God, thank you for having created us so lovingly.  Thank you for creating us that we might live in your presence and serve in your temple.  Thank you for continuing to care and provide for us even when we rejected you.  Strengthen our faith in Christ our Saviour.  Give us grace by your Spirit to live the new life he has given.  And let us live in hope of that great day when the fullness of our redemption comes, that day when we will live fully in your presence again and for all eternity.  We ask this through Jesus Christ.  Amen. Cited by B.B. Warfield in “Divine and Human in the Bible,” Presbyterian Journal (May 1894).
Bible Text: Genesis 2:18-25 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Genesis The Gift of the Bride Genesis 2:18-25 Chapter 1 of Genesis gave us a biblical overview of Creation.  It lifts us, not only out of the cosmos, but out of time itself so that we can see that Creation from God’s perspective.  The Creation in terms of God building a temple for himself.  We see him lay the foundations and then build the walls and the roof; we see him filling the temple with the implements of worship; and finally we see him create human beings—both male and female—to serve as his priests in his temple. Then we moved into Chapter 2.  That’s where the story begins, and the biblical text zooms back into space and time.  Again, we see the earth in its uncreated, chaotic, and unpurposeful state.  There’s land, but there’s no life.  And so Genesis again paints a beautiful picture of God’s creative work for us.  It shows us God as if he were a man.  He stoops to the earth, gathers a handful of dust, shapes it into the first man, and then gives him life by breathing his own breath into the little clay figure.  The man, adam, was created from the earth, adama.  Again, this isn’t a materialistic or scientific account of creation.  The point isn’t to describe our substantial makeup, but to underscore humanity’s connection with the earth, with the physical Creation, and to point to God himself as our source of life.  We may bear God’s image, but we are not gods; we’re creatures.  We’re mortal, but so long as we trust our Creator, he will sustain our life. With the newly formed man in one hand, God then created a garden with the other—a special place where all of the man’s need were provided for, a place where he could walk and talk with God, a place where he could do his divinely appointed work.  The garden was the temple in miniature; the place where God provided and the man served as his priest and lived in intimate relationship with his Creator.  The Tree of Life was there and so long as the man was obedient to God—so long as he trusted God and stayed away from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—he could eat of the Tree of Life and live by perfect faith before the throne of God. We might expect the story to break at this point so that God could look on his handiwork and declare it to be good—maybe even very good.  But, in fact, in the next verse we see just the opposite.  Look at verse 18: Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Human beings experience true goodness as God sees our needs and provides.  As good as the Creation was and as much as God had provided a perfect home for the man, there was still a need—a big need.  In the Hebrew God’s statement is emphatic.  Normally you’d expect the Hebrew literally to say that something is “lacking in goodness”, but here the text is clear; this situation isn’t just lacking in goodness, it’s just plain “not good”.  In other words, it’s bad for the man to be alone.  It’s as if we’ve been watching a movie.  God’s been working to create perfection.  The scene is peaceful and idyllic…and then suddenly the director shouts, “Cut!” and everything comes to a sudden stop.  “This isn’t good!” he says.  Something’s missing. And all the women nod and say, “Of course!  You can’t leave a man alone.  He needs a wife or he’ll ruin everything.  At the very least, he’ll never find his car keys and he’ll never have clean socks!”  When we men are honest we know it’s true.  It’s bad for us to be alone.  I met Veronica while I was working on my master’s thesis, which was a study in the book of Sirach.  Jesus ben Sira, the Second Century Jewish sage, was full of wisdom and as I was preparing to get married some of his words stuck with me: He who acquires a wife gets his best possession,  a helper fit for him and a pillar of support.   Where there is no fence, the property will be plundered;  and where there is no wife, a man will wander about and sigh. (Sirach 36:24-25 RSV) God knew this already.  And so seeing the man’s need, he provides for his need perfectly.  But in good story-telling fashion, he doesn’t do it instantly.  He wants the man to appreciate his provision when it comes.  You and I know already that what the man needs is a woman, a wife.  So did the people who heard this story when it was told around campfires thousands of years ago.  There’s some humour here, but it teaches us how well God cares for us and how perfectly he meets our needs.  Look now at verses 19 and 20.  The man needs a helper—he needs a wife—but God look what God does for him first: Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them.  And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.  The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. Poor Adam.  He needed a wife and God brought him sparrows and spiders, horses and oxen, lions and tigers, dogs and cats.  It’s not that God expected the man to find his helper amongst all these animals, but God did want the man to appreciate the real helper when he did finally bring her to the man.  As an aside, this gives us an opportunity to see the man exercising dominion over Creation.  Giving names to the animals is an act of dominion.  We still see this in our culture today.  Naming something is a way of leaving our mark or expressing our ownership.  My neighbour moved here from the Queen Charlottes and corrected me when I used that name.  It’s “Haida Gwaii” now.  British explorers named the islands after Queen Charlotte as a way of exercising their dominion over them.  Now, as we recognise that the native population there had dominion first, the government has allowed them to rename the islands.  Naming something shows our dominion over it and that’s what the man does here with the animals. But what was the man looking for?  That takes us back to his need for a “fit helper”.  What does that mean?  First, the Hebrew word doesn’t just refer to a helper.  This kind of helper is under the authority of the one being helped.  In that sense, the animals could be fit helpers.  The man certainly has dominion or authority over them and we see that as he names them.  And yet as the animals file past the man, none of them stands out as a fit helper.  “Sure,” he says, “I get tired walking around the garden; I could probably ride the horse.”  And, “That dog looks pretty friendly; I bet he’d be a great pet.”  But none was a truly “fit helper”. What’s interesting is that this word “helper” is used nineteen times in the Old Testament and sixteen of those times it refers to God as a helper.  The helper God had in mind for the man was a real helper.  Not just someone to pull his plow, carry him across the garden, or warm his feet at night, but someone with whom he could live in relationship.  None of the animals could do that.  And his need isn’t for a simple “helper”; it’s for a fit helper.  This helper needs to be equal and adequate.  More and more the criteria point to another bearer of God’s divine image.  The animals all had the breath of life in them, but none of them bore God’s image.  And so in the second half of verse 20 we read: But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.   Karl Barth wrote that one of the most important facets of our bearing the image of God is that we live in relationship with our fellow human beings and especially so as male and female.  God is never alone.  He exists as a Trinity; as three in one.  And within that Trinity of persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—exists perfect love.  To fully bear God’s image human beings need to experience and live in relationship with other image-bearers. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.  And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:21-22) God knew what he was going to do all along, but to help the man to appreciate his goodness he “played dumb”.  He paraded all the animals past him as if expecting the man to find his helper in the line-up, but what he was really doing was showing Adam how short the animals all fell of the mark—how none of them was truly a “fit helper”.  Imagine how much greater Adam’s appreciation was for Eve after having seen the horse or the dog or the platypus as alternatives!  Before providing a fit helper, God first showed him all the unsuitable alternatives. Was Adam disappointed?  Maybe.  And yet we have to remember that to live in the garden was to live in a state of trust in God—Adam’s faith was perfect.  Assuming he was even conscious of the need for a mate, I think he’d have been living in hopeful anticipation of the creature that God would bring him next. And so God puts Adam to sleep and from one of his ribs he finally creates a fit helper, from the man he creates woman.  Again, just as the imagery of God creating the man from the dust isn’t meant to be a materialistic account, neither is this.  That God creates woman from man establishes relationship between the sexes.  As St. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:28: Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. Matthew Henry may have summed it up the best in his famous commentary on this passage that the woman is “not made out of his head to top him, not out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”   The man and the woman were literally one flesh and that image illustrates the bond that we find in marriage: everything that affects one also affects the other; anything that hurts one also hurts the other. So the man finally has a fit helper.  Just like him, she bears God’s image.  She helps him by honouring his vocation as God’s priest; she lives in faith just as he does; and she too lives in obedience to God’s command not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The man is to have priority over her, to rule over her, but they’re both mutually dependent on each other.  The man was created first and the woman created to help him, not the other way around, and yet the Hebrew word that described the woman’s calling describes a high vocation.  She’s not the man’s servant; she’s not his slave.  Again, remember that the word that describes her as his “helper” is used nineteen times in the Old Testament and sixteen of them describe God.  Her calling is a high calling because it’s a calling given by God and because to live out that calling is to actively bear the image of God.  Remember, even though the man and woman have different roles, they stand with equal dignity before God as his image bearers.  The man was made from the dust as the crown of Creation, but the woman was made from man—she is dust refined—to crown the man himself. Look at verse 23.  The only words the Bible hands down to us from before the Fall are Adam’s response when God created the woman and presented her to him.  Untouched by envy or by a desire to dominate and control her, Adam celebrates her closeness to himself: “This at last is bone of my bones          and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman,          because she was taken out of Man.” As we read the rest of the Old Testament what we see reinforced is women’s equality in being and dignity with men.  One example in particular stands out.  Think of Hagar.  She was Sarah’s maid and when Sarah became jealous of her she harangued Abraham into casting her out of their home and their camp.  As Hagar and her son, Ishmael, were dying of thirst in the wilderness God came to her.  And he addressed her, “Hagar, servant of Sarai…” (Genesis 16:8).  We have thousands of ancient near eastern texts, but this is the only one in which a god or his messenger grants dignity to a woman by calling her by name. The Old Testament, especially the book of Proverbs, teaches us that women have equality in parenting.  Proverbs 1:8 warns sons, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.”  Throughout both the Old and New Testaments we see women gifted by the Spirit, especially with prophecy.  God speaks through both men and women.  And throughout the Bible we see men and women coming before God in worship and in prayer on an equal footing. And yet the roles of men and women differ.  The man’s headship isn’t the result of the Fall.  It’s part of the family as established by God in the beginning.  St. Paul explained to the Corinthians that the man is head over his wife just as God is head over Christ and to make his point he took them here, to Genesis 2, and explained that woman was created for man, not man for woman.  For that reason God calls both men and women to serve him, he gifts both men and women equally for service, but in his kingdom—in his Church and in the family—he calls only men to positions of governing authority as priests and bishops in the Church and in the family he places the husband in the position of authority. We often chafe at this reality, but we do so because of the Fall—because we no longer trust God for what is good and instead, we try to find good and define it for ourselves.  As a result our marriages fall apart.  Husbands fail to lead and to care for their wives; wives fail to submit to their husbands.  Our marriages end up in a viciously turning downward spiral.  Instead St. Paul, taking us back to what God created in beginning, urges us in Ephesians 5: Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.     Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Ephesians 5:22-28) Notice how Paul draws together the way in which we as husbands and wives are to relate to each other with the way in which Christ relates to the Church.  Part of our bearing the image of God is living in relationship with each other in a way that models the loving relationships that exist within the Trinity, but marriage also points us to the loving relationship of the Saviour to his Bride.  As much as failing to live out God’s model for marriage leads to a marital nosedive, when we do relate to each other as God created us, our marriages soar.  Husband, if you love, cherish, and care for your wife the way Christ loves and cares for his Church, God has wired her to respond by submitting to your loving headship.  And wife, if you lovingly submit to your husband as the Church submits to Christ, God has wired your husband to respond by loving and cherishing you.  This is how God made us.  We reject it all because in our sin we think we know better.  Brothers and sisters, we need to trust God and trust that he knows what’s best for us. Now, in verses 24 and 25 we read the story’s epilogue: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.  And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Adam and Eve are the archetype for godly marriage.  Not only does the story show us the roles of men and women within marriage and family, it reminds us that marriage itself is divinely instituted by God.  It was God who declared that it was not good for the man to be alone, it was God who created the woman, and it was God who brought the woman to the man.  It’s through marriage that a man and a woman are united as “one flesh”.  This is the core of what defines the family.  Children should be the natural result, but the family itself exists in this bond, this “one flesh”, whether children come or not.  Verse 24 also shows the husband making his wife his focus.  As much as the wife leaves her family too, God here places the emphasis on the man leaving his parents, joining with his new wife, making her his focus, and the two of them creating a new family. Brothers and sisters, let me conclude by saying that marriage points us back to God.  He didn’t institute marriage arbitrarily.  He designed marriage to point us back to himself and to show us his love for us.  A marriage is a covenant and the history of redemption is all about God establishing a covenant with his people—establishing a covenant with us because he loves us and wants to restore us to himself.  If you read through the Old Testament, especially the prophets, you’ll see God drawing on the imagery of marriage to describe his relationship with his people.  The book of Hosea does this especially as God used the broken marriage of Hosea and his prostitute wife to illustrate his own covenant with Israel.  In the end God promises that one day he will restore the relationship.  No longer will God’s people—no longer will we—prostitute ourselves to false gods, no longer will we turn our backs on God’s faithful provision, no longer will we reject his headship and authority, but on that day our hearts will be made anew and God will bring us, his people, back into loving relationship with him.  Dear friends, that’s what Jesus did as he stretched out his arms on the Cross. This is why much of the Church has historically seen marriage as sacramental.  A sacrament is a visible sign and seal of an inward and spiritual grace.  Not only is the marriage ceremony an outward and visible sign of the new relationship between husband and wife, but marriage itself is a sacramental sign that points to the lovingkindness of God and his commitment to us, to his people.  The Church—the people of God, his covenant community—is the bride of Christ.  God intended for our earthly marriages to teach us how to share love and grace with one another and how to submit to Christ, our head.  Verse 25 notes that in that first marriage, the man and the woman were both naked and unashamed.  Their nakedness is an image of openness and trust in marriage and it is this openness and trust in marriage that illustrates for us the openness and trust we ought to share with God—openness and trust broken because of our sin. As we come to the Table this morning, know that here God offers us himself.  Jesus loved his Bride, his Church, so much that he was willing to die as a sacrifice for her sins.  He saw our need and he met it perfectly.  When human beings sinned, we were cast from the temple and the way to the Tree of Life was barred to us.  But, brothers and sisters, through Jesus Christ the way is open again.  Here he gives us a foretaste of that great marriage banquet that awaits us in heaven on that day when our salvation is consummated and Christ brings us back to the temple, back to the garden.  Here he gives us a foretaste of the Tree of Life.  He is the one who perfectly knows what we need and he is the one who will perfectly provide.  In response, let us submit to him in loving obedience, faithfully trusting in his promise. Let us pray: Heavenly Father, we confess that our faith is often very small.  We know your promises and that you know what is best for us, and yet we still so often trust in ourselves.  We take your role on ourselves and we stumble into sin.  Strengthen our faith that we might grow in obedience more each day as our trust in your provision grows.  We pray especially today for those who are married, for the grace to live our marriages based on the model you established in Creation, that as your people we might model to the world Christ’s love for the Church and the Church’s loving submission to her Saviour.  Let us be a light in the darkness, Lord.  Let the world see Jesus Christ through us.  We ask this in his name.  Amen. Matthew Henry, Exposition of the Old and New Testament.  (Philadelphia: Haswell, Barrington, and Haswell, 1838), p. 36

The Gift Spurned

June 17, 2012
Bible Text: Genesis 3:1-8 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Genesis The Gift Spurned Genesis 3:1-8 The story of God’s creation of the cosmos, and more specifically of the earth and of human beings, paints a beautiful picture for us.  We see God building a glorious temple for himself and then creating human beings to worship and serve him in his temple.  Everything he does as he creates is for the benefit of his priests whom he so dearly loves and cares for.  And as Chapter 2 ends we see the two priests brought together by God in the first marriage; and in that marriage the man and the woman offer each other the very love that God has shown in his creation of them.  The story ends by telling us that, “the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25).  Not only did they live with each other in complete openness, but they lived before the face of God in complete innocence; with no shame and with nothing at all to hide. That’s what God intended for us.  And yet the story is in stark contrast with the reality of human life.  As much as God’s creation is filled with beauty, you and I all struggle to survive.  We can see the beauty and majesty of God’s handiwork all around us, but we hardly feel as though we’re living to worship and serve God in his temple.  And where the man and the woman lived in open and unashamed fellowship with God, we have trouble doing that even with each other.  We struggle with sin and we live conscious of God’s judgement.  All too often our good works are motivated less by a desire to serve God out of thankfulness than out of a desire to placate his anger with us.  Ancient people made these same observations.  How did we go from living as priests in the perfection of God’s temple to living our lives beating on its doors, trying to get back inside?  Genesis 3 tells us.  And in this sense it’s a fulcrum point of Scripture.  The Bible is God’s revelation of himself to us, and more specifically it’s the story of God’s redemptive acts in history.  Chapter 3 shows us why we need to be redeemed; it tells us that we’ve fallen—that God gave us the gift of life and that in response every one of us has rejected him, rejected his gift, and chosen death instead. What we read in Chapter 3 raises again issue of the historicity of Adam—the issue of whether he was an actual man who lived in history or whether he is simply a symbolic character in Scripture meant to teach the spiritual truth of our sinful condition.  I want to address this because I know it’s an issue with which many Christians struggle in light of what the current scientific consensus tells us about human origins. So, first, was Adam a real person in history?  The single greatest piece of support for this side of the debate is that the Bible does present him as an historical character.  Not only is what we have in Genesis 2 to 4 historical narrative, but Adam turns up again in the genealogy at the beginning of Chronicles and in the ancestry of Jesus.  Most importantly, St. Paul’s theology of Jesus as Saviour seems to be rooted in the idea of an historical Adam.  Think of Paul’s teaching in Romans 5, specifically verse 19: For as by the one man’s disobedience [that’s Adam] the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience [that’s Jesus] the many will be made righteous. Paul describes Jesus as a “second Adam” and, of course, how can you have a second Adam if there was no literal first Adam?  St. Augustine developed this idea in his theology of original sin and for that reason those of us—Lutherans and Calvinists and Anglicans—who have inherited our theology from Augustine have struggled with this problem.  How can there be such a thing as “original sin” if there was no historical Adam to sin in the first place and to pass his sin on to his children? On the other side of the debate, we find that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile an historical Adam with science.  The current consensus tells us that the human race was never as small as a single pair.  Even Genesis itself seems to admit that there were other people.  Seth and Cain had to find wives somewhere and Cain built a city.  Even if that city was only a village by our standards, there must have been other human beings around to inhabit it.  And, of course, we also have Cain’s plea to God that if he is cursed to wander the earth as punishment, he will certainly be lynched for having murdered his brother. One of the observations we made in our study of Chapter 2 is that, historical or not, Adam is presented very much as an Everyman.  He represents all of us.  Even his name, Adam, makes him a representative of the whole race.  God created adam—the “earthing”—from adama—the earth.  And when God created the woman, she was very much presented as an “Everywoman”.  We’ve also seen in our study so far that God speaks in the language and into the cultural context of the people who originally heard him.  That means that we can’t impose our modern understanding of what constitutes history onto ancient narratives.  Ancient people had no trouble writing historically about things we would consider to be “legend” or “symbol”.  Again, our mindset is scientific and materialistic.  They were concerned with purpose and function, which they often communicated in symbolic ways. The difference between the Old and New Testaments is striking as well.  Adam turns up in the genealogy at the beginning of Chronicles, but that’s the only place after Genesis 5 that we find any mention of Adam until the New Testament.  You might think that the man responsible for our painful lot in life might turn up more often, but instead we see over and over in the Old Testament that, yes, we are all indeed fallen sinners, but we are also all responsible for our own sins.  The New Testament doesn’t change any of that, but it’s also the first place where we see our sinful state traced back to Adam by St. Paul.  And yet we also know that Paul leans on the Old Testament very much as the rabbis did and that means that Paul’s understanding of Adam could very well have been symbolic. This is an old debate, but about a century ago it was shut down in Evangelical circles by the Fundamentalist movement.  It’s just been in the last few years that it has been opened again.  I say this as a committed Augustinian: It’s a debate we desperately need to have.  Is the problem of sin universal because of an historical Adam who sinned first, or is Adam a symbol meant to point to the condition of our universal sinfulness?  Either way, the key point is that human beings have a universal sin problem and need a Saviour.  It will be a while—if ever—before the debate is settled.  In the meantime we need to show charity.  I often see those in favour of an historical Adam characterise their opposition as Bible-trashing, liberal heretics and those in favour of understanding Adam as a symbol trashing their opposition as a bunch of knuckle-dragging, fundamentalist Neanderthals.  The fact is that both characterisations are equally false.  Both sides are committed to the inspiration and authority of Scriptur, both sides are trying to be faithful in their understanding and interpretation of it, and both positions uphold Scripture’s key point here: Humanity has a universal sin problem. Now, onto the story itself: when we left the man and the woman they “were both naked and were not ashamed.”  Look with me at Chapter 3, verse 1: Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. There’s a setup here that doesn’t come across in English.  The Hebrew word for “naked” in 2:25 and the word here for “crafty” rhyme.  In English we might say that the man and the woman were nude, but the serpent was shrewd.  They’re sitting ducks, in other words.  God created them in innocence and that’s how they lived.  They lived in perfect trust of their Creator; they lived in perfect trust of each other; and they lived with no knowledge of sin.  They had only one command from God.  They could do whatever they wanted so long as they didn’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Now into this idyllic scene comes the serpent.  It’s subtle, crafty, and shrewd.  The serpent stands in sharp contrast to the man and woman and draws our attention to their vulnerability.  They were nude, but the serpent was shrewd; they were innocent, but the serpent was crafty.  Right from the beginning we know that this isn’t going to end well. As for the serpent, Genesis doesn’t tell us his identity.  You and I have read the rest of the story; we’ve seen him later revealed as Satan—the “Adversary” or the “Accuser”—and we’ve especially read the end of the story where the serpent reveals himself finally not as a simple garden snake, not as a cobra, not even as a great python, but as a great dragon—the dragon—whose mission is to take down the kingdom of God through the corruption of his Creation.  But why doesn’t Genesis tell us who the serpent is?  We can’t know for certain, but I’m inclined to think that it’s because of our human tendency to shift the blame for our sins.  Think how commonplace the phrase “The Devil made me do it” is.  It’s so commonplace that we’ve made a joke of it.  We put it on bathroom scales.  The point of the story is that the man and woman fell to temptation and sinned.  The serpent—Satan—may have been the source of the temptation in this instance, but the man and woman are ultimately responsible for their own choices. Again, Adam is Everyman; Eve is Everywoman.  Think of all the times you’ve sinned and blamed someone or something else instead of taking responsibility for your own actions.  We get angry and we blame it on stress or we blame it on the person we’re angry with.  The other night I was trying to spoon sauce out of a pan on the stove.  Human beings have been doing this from the beginning.  We’ve even institutionalised it in Freudian counselling and psychology: “Tell me about your mother.”  Because, of course, we can probably trace all your problems back to her and if not to her, then to someone else in your past.  If we can shift the blame, we can avoid responsibility for our sins. The story here reminds us that we need to watch out for sources of temptation, but that ultimately the responsibility for our sins is our own.  We’ll never be able to deal with our sin problem and to move forward in our sanctification—our being made holy—until we’re willing to face up to our sins and stop blaming them on others.  “The devil made me do it” won’t hold up as an excuse when we stand before God’s judgement. The story goes on in the second half of verse 1: He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  Notice the finesse of the serpent’s manipulation of the woman.  Think of the setting.  The man and woman are living in God’s temple-garden.  He’s provided everything for them.  They live in direct fellowship with him.  Everything is good.  Life doesn’t get any better than this.  And they only had one command to obey: Don’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  If life was that good, who would care that there was one tree you weren’t supposed to eat from?  And that’s not to mention that the man and woman were living in perfect trust in God to provide.  If God said not to do something, it wouldn’t have occurred to them to breach that trust. But breaching that trust is the serpent’s strategy.  He causes the woman to question God’s goodness and in doing that he erodes her trust and her faith in God.  He does this when he tempts us: he draws our attention away from all the good God has provided and introduces discontentment into our hearts by turning out attention to what we don’t have.  Here he asks the woman, “Did God really command you not to eat from the trees of the garden?” That’s not what God commanded.  God only commanded them not to eat from one specific tree, but the serpent is twisting God’s command to direct her away from God’s provision and instead to focus her thinking on God’s prohibition.  He’s taking God’s loving command and twisting it into something harsh and restrictive. And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said,  ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”  (Genesis 3:2-3) The woman corrects the serpent, “No.  We can eat from any tree we want to; it’s just that one tree over there we’re not supposed to eat from.”  But notice how the serpent has very subtly—very craftily—twisted her thinking.  God had told the man that on the day he ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil he would surely die.  The woman now goes a step further; she adds to God’s command, “God told us not to eat or touch the fruit of that tree lest we die.”  That’s not what God had said.  God said not to eat it.  And as much as it was almost certainly a bad idea to touch the fruit, God didn’t actually said anything about touching it.  At the same time, the woman is softening God’s warning about death.  God told the man he would “surely die” and now the woman is softening that to “lest you die”. The serpent sees that he’s got the woman hooked with his subtle dishonesty.  Now he reels her in with a blatant lie. But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  (Genesis 3:4-5) Once the serpent had the woman questioning God’s goodness it was easy to completely subvert her trust in him.  It’s sad that in the midst of the paradise that God had so lovingly provided for the man and the woman, the serpent had to speak only two lines to subvert her trust in God and to convince her to disobey his command.  And yet if we look at our own lives, how often does it take even less to convince us to sin?  God provides for us and blesses us day in and day out, he has caused his Word to be written that me might know him, and he has sent his own Son to be a sacrifice for our sins, and yet temptation comes—something we see, pressure from a friend, or even something as small as a flitting thought—and immediately we doubt God’s goodness, we forget his commands, and we throw ourselves headlong into disobedience. After getting the woman to question God’s goodness, the serpent now stirs jealousy and resentment in her heart for the first time: “God only told you not to eat it because he’s holding back; he knows that when you eat it you’ll be like him and he doesn’t want that.”  Oh, to be like God!  Ever since that first temptation by the serpent this has been humanity’s desire: to be like God.  But, brothers and sisters, to take God’s role on ourselves is what lies at the root of all our sin.  We fall into the trap of thinking that we know better than God, that as good as he is, he’s really been giving us the short end of the stick—holding things back—and that if only we could be in charge and call the shots, things would be so much better. The problem is that God did not create us with the ability to know good for ourselves.  We lack his omnipotence; we lack his omniscience.  Our vision is too blinkered; too short sighted.  We might choose what looks good today only to find it leading to disaster tomorrow.  Only God sees perfectly.  And yet look at verse 6: So when the woman saw [she takes God’s role on herself] that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Up to this point in the story only God “sees”.  That’s his role because, again, only he sees perfectly.  Human beings were created to trust in him for his ability to see—to know—what is perfectly good and to trust him to provide it.  That’s what we’ve seen him doing all along.  Notice, up to this point God has always been the one who sees and who judges something to be good.  Verse 6 makes a dramatic shift.  Suddenly the woman sees and judges good for herself.  She’s trying to take God’s role on herself.  She’s cast aside his promise of provision and care and tries to meet her needs and desries apart from him.  That’s what sin is.  When we sin, we reject God’s authority, we reject our faith and trust in him to provide.  We try to meet our needs on our own terms and in our own power. And so the narrator tells us that the woman took the fruit and ate it.  How quickly we sin once we’ve made the decision!  The woman wanted wisdom apart from God.  The tragic irony of the story is that what the serpent promised her is what she got—but it wasn’t what she expected.  The man and the woman were already “like” God as his image bearers.  The serpent had promised that she would know good and evil just as God knows good and evil.  She thought that once they had this knowledge of good and evil she and her husband could enjoy the good all on their own.  What never occurred to her was that she and her husband would end up condemned by their loss of innocence. What’s truly sad is that the story tells us that the man was right there.  We have a common image of the woman and the serpent having this conversation alone and that the woman ate and then went looking for her husband to convince him to eat.  In fact, the story tells us that he was with her all along.  As his wife’s protector, the man failed in his duty by allowing this conversation with the serpent to happen in the first place and then by standing passively by as his wife ate.  The man was as convinced by the serpent’s arguments as his wife was.  She ate and passed the fruit straight to him and he ate too. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.  (Genesis 3:7) When the man and the woman were first described as being “naked” in Chapter 2 the word used describes innocence.  This word in verse 7 is different; it describes someone being stripped of his or her clothes—it describes being naked in the sense of being defenceless, weak, and humiliated.  Once they had declared their independence from God, the man quickly realised that if his wife was willing to defy God for her own advantage, what was to stop her from defying him too?  The woman realised the same thing of her husband.  Trust was gone between them and so they hid from each other.  To protect themselves, they sewed flimsy coverings out of fig leaves. When God arrived on the scene they realised that they were also naked before him in a way they hadn’t been before.  Look at verse 8, which I want to read from a different, I think, more accurate translation: Then the man and his wife heard the thunder of the Lord God as he was going back and forth in the garden in the wind of the storm, and they hid. Fig leaves might hide them from each other, but not from God.  They heard God coming in judgement.  They should have approached him in humility to confess what they had done and to ask for mercy, but instead they foolishly did what we so often do: they tried to hide from God. That’s as far as we’ll go in the story this week.  What does what we’ve read so far mean for us?  Let me first say that the serpent’s temptation is particularly relevant today.  We live in a culture dominated by Postmodern thinking.  Everything is relative and maturity is seen as being able to choose right and wrong for oneself.  In contrast, Scripture teaches u that when God created us he spared us the burden of having to know good and evil, because he knew that we aren’t equipped for that task.  In the Garden it wasn’t an issue.  We simply trusted God to provide the good.  But as a result of disobedience, humanity lost that innocence.  We know that good and evil exist; because we know, we have to choose for ourselves; but we’re left in this horrible position of not being equipped to make that determination.  We don’t have the knowledge or the wisdom.  God came to our rescue, in part, when he gave us his law.  In the law he gave us a standard.  And, because we no longer live in his direct presence, because we no longer know him personally as we were created to, he gives us his Word that we might have a means of knowing him again.  In our fallen state, it’s his Word in which we find a measure of life and it’s his Word that gives us relief from the impossible burden of having to determine good and evil.  This is why, in Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses declared “that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Thanks be to God that by his grace, through the Cross of Jesus Christ, we can be restored to a spiritual state in which we can once again live by the Words that the Lord speaks.  But even covered by the blood of Christ, we still struggle with temptation and regularly fall to it.  We need this constant reminder that sin, that our disobedience to God, happens when we forget his good provision for us and choose instead to focus on the prohibitions, when we forget that only he is wise and that the prohibitions are there for our good.  We need to remember this when we’re tempted to choose for ourselves what is good and what is evil.  God has promised to provide the good for us and he’s given us the Scriptures in which we can find example after example that prove he will do just that.  We overcome temptation in making Christ our Lord, in following him, and in trusting him to continue to provide the good—even when the good might look bad from our limited perspective.  As we pray in the Great Litany: “O Lord, let thy mercy be showed upon us; As we do put our trust in thee.”  Amen. Niehaus, Jeffry, “In the Wind of the Storm: Another Look at Genesis III 8,” Vetus Testamentum 44 [1994], pp. 263-67.

The Wages of Sin

June 24, 2012
Bible Text: Genesis 3:9-24 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Genesis The Wages of Sin Genesis 3:9-24 There’s an old saying—one that comes from the Old Testament book of Numbers (32:23)—that says, “Your sin will find you out.”  Adam and Eve learned the truth of that saying long, long before it was ever spoken by Moses.  That’s where we left them last Sunday: their sin had found them out.  As we read the first part of the story, we saw how the serpent craftily temped the man and the woman to sin by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  God had provided everything for them; he had told them that every tree in the garden was theirs for food; but he had warned them about this one tree: “Don’t eat its fruit; on the day you eat it, you will surely die.” For them that command was no great burden.  Remember, they were living in complete and total innocence.  God had provided good things for them and they trusted him perfectly.  If he said, “Don’t eat the fruit from that one particular tree,” they obeyed.  They had no good reason to question his command.  They didn’t obey grudgingly; they obeyed because they trusted that God knew what was best for them.  They had perfect faith.  And it was into their perfect faith that the serpent knew he needed to drive a wedge if he were going to separate them from God.  And so we saw him approach the innocent and naïve woman so that he could craftily twist her faith into doubt and her doubt into rebellion.  He started by making God’s command sound like something burdensome instead of the good and protective thing that it really was.  And once he had her thinking about God’s command as a burden, then it was easy to convince her that God was holding out on them—that God had something good and that he was trying to keep it all to himself.  The man and the woman believed the subtle lies and they took the fruit and ate it.  Instead of trusting God to provide the good, they decided that they wanted to be able to know good for themselves; they wanted to have good things without reliance on God.  That’s what underlies all our sin: the attempt to meet our needs or to get what we think is good apart from God. Immediately the man and the woman knew something was wrong.  Their innocence was gone.  The text says that they suddenly realized they were naked.  That wasn’t a problem when they were living in innocence, when they were living in complete trust of each other.  But in their sin, the wife had betrayed her husband and the husband had betrayed his wife.  The trust they had had was gone.  They realized they were no longer safe with each other and so they tried to cloth themselves with fig leaves—they tried to hide and to protect themselves from each other.  But that was only a foreshadowing of what was to come.  When we left them last Sunday in verse 8, God had come to the garden to walk and to talk with them as he was accustomed to do.  And yet this time, knowing their disobedience, he came in a whirlwind.  He came in judgement and the man and the woman ran and hid.  God had given them the trees of the garden for sustenance; now they run and use those same trees in a pathetic attempt to hide from God.  We’ll pick up the story now at Genesis 3:19. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” Does God ask the man where he’s at because he doesn’t know?  No, of course not.  God knows all.  He knew exactly where the man and his wife were.  But as God now comes in judgement, he needs to demonstrate to the man and the woman that he is a just judge.  He doesn’t just swoop down from heaven already knowing the facts and pronouncing sentence.  He could have, but he wants his creatures to know that he is just.  He wants them to know that as the just King, he will not pass sentence without a careful investigation.  Even though it was the man and the woman who violated their relationship of trust, God still seeks to do things in a way that will rebuild and establish their trust in him.  Franz Delitzsch writes, “It was God their creator, who now as God the redeemer was seeking the lost.”   Already, God is setting his plans for redemption in motion.  And so he gives them every reason to have faith that he is good and that he’s here for them.  So he comes, seeing and knowing the man and the woman are hiding, and he calls them out of the trees by asking where they are.  Remember that the man and woman are still very naïve.  I don’t think it’s unfair to say that this confrontation here is like the confrontations we have with our young children when they do something wrong and try to hide. Imagine walking into the kitchen and seeing the cookie jar lying broken on the floor with cookies scattered around.  And as your footsteps echo across the kitchen, you hear the quick pitter-patter of your child’s footsteps suddenly running down the hall to his room.  You follow him and when you get to his room, you see his feet sticking out from under the bed.  You could drag him out and tell him how he’s going to pay for the broken cookie jar, but instead you call out, “Billy, where are you?”  And as your son realises that your not going to instantly bite his head off, he pushes his way out from under the bed.  Look at verse 10 now, as the man comes out from the trees. And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” This is where you notice the bottle of glue that Billy is trying to hide behind his back and you ask, “What’s with the glue.”  And he says, “Oh!  I noticed that the cookie jar was broken so I was going to glue it back together.”  And that’s when you, as parent say, “Ah, I see.  But how did the cookie jar break?  Were you eating cookies when you knew you weren’t supposed to?”  The man knew he couldn’t outright lie to God, but his admission of nakedness as an explanation for hiding gives it all away.  God’s an all-knowing detective and he leads the man in a line of questioning that forces him to give everything away.  In verse 11 God goes on: He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” At this point the man knows he’s sunk, and yet look at what he does in verse 12.  He knows that he disobeyed, but he isn’t willing to take responsibility for it. The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Homer Simpson once said that weaselling out of things is what separates us from the animals (except, of course, the weasel).  He was more right then he may have known!  Remember how I said last week that our natural tendency when it comes to sin is to shift the blame?  If we can blame someone else for it, then we don’t have to take responsibility.  We’ve all done it.  Parents, you’ve all seen your children do it.  And here we have the story of humanity’s first act of sin, and what do the man and the woman do?  They try to weasel out of responsibility; they try to shift the blame.  The man says, “Okay, God.  Yes, I did eat the fruit you told us not to eat, but it wasn’t my fault.  That woman you gave me, it’s her fault, she gave it to me to eat!”  The man blames his wife; never mind the fact that he completely abrogated his responsibility to keep her from sin.  As soon as the serpent started talking to his wife, the man should have stepped in and put an end to the conversation.  And yet the man goes even further.  Yes, it’s the woman’s fault, but ultimately he blames it on God: It was the woman whom you gave to be with me.  “The woman tricked me into it, God.  If you didn’t want me to sin you should never have given me this Jezebel!” Why did the man and the woman make clothes for themselves?  This is why.  They realised they could no longer trust each other and so they tried to come up with some kind of flimsy protection.  And they were right not to trust each other.  Rather than manning up—and I say “manning-up” with good reason—to protect and take responsibility for his wife, the man throws her under the bus.  At least to her credit, the woman doesn’t blame her husband when God turns his investigation to her.  She could have blamed him for not stopping her as he should have done.  And yet she isn’t willing to take the fall either.  God asks her about her part in this and look at what she says in verse 13: Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said,  “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” She decided her best bet to avoid responsibility was to fall back on the old “The Devil made me do it” excuse.  God plays out plenty of rope and the man and the woman both hang themselves with it.  Not only did they both sin by disobeying God’s command not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but in just this short investigation, they fully show their loss of innocence and their corrupt state: they refuse to take responsibility for their sin, they shift the blame, they show no repentance, and the man especially, shows the brokenness not only of his relationship with God, but his relationship with his wife. Even after they sinned, the man and the woman still had every reason to continue to trust God.  Now they know why God told them not to eat of that one tree.  What happened when they did is proof that God really did have their best interest at heart.  They should have come to him in repentance, accepted responsibility, and asked for mercy.  Instead they show that they’ve shifted their allegiance.  In distorting the truth and in accusing God and each other, they show their new allegiance to Satan. Beginning in verses 14 and 15 God then pronounces judgement.  He starts with the serpent and works his way back to the man. The Lord God said to the serpent,           “Because you have done this,                   cursed are you above all livestock                   and above all beasts of the field;           on your belly you shall go,                   and dust you shall eat                   all the days of your life.            I will put enmity between you and the woman,                   and between your offspring  and  her offspring;            he shall bruise your head,                   and you shall bruise his heel.” The point here isn’t to explain why snakes slither on their bellies.  This particular serpent incarnates Satan in the story and so God addresses Satan as the serpent in pronouncing his curse.  Remember that a curse is the opposite of a blessing.  We’ve seen that to live in obedience to God is to live with his blessing—especially in the case of the man and woman, it was to live in the garden-temple and to have access to the Tree of Life.  Here we see that to disobey is to live under God’s curse; it’s to have the blessing not only removed, but to have to live with the consequences of one’s sin. There are two key points in the cursing of the serpent that are made in verse 15.  First, God notes that he will put enmity between the serpent and the woman.  This shows us God’s sovereign grace at work.  As we’ve seen, when the woman was left to herself, she gave herself, her desires, and her allegiance to the serpent.  In that sense she represents all of us in our fallen state.  But God sovereignly chooses not to leave her in that hopeless state.  In placing enmity between her and the serpent, he uses his sovereign right to change her “religious affections”, to use Jonathan Edwards phrase.  God does a work of grace in her heart and changes her affections.  He turns her heart away from the serpent and towards himself.  He gives her a desire for fellowship with himself. God chooses to do the same with every one of his elect.  Whereas our hearts in their natural and fallen state turn always to the serpent and to sin, God does a work of grace in the hearts of his elect and turns us to himself.  The wheels of redemptive history are starting to turn already. The second key point we see in the curse on the serpent is the Gospel itself.  The Church Fathers called verse 15 the “first gospel”, because it so clearly points to Jesus and to his victory over Satan at the cross.  God acknowledges here that the serpent will be allowed a certain measure of power for a time.  In fact, God acknowledges that the serpent will bruise the heel of the woman’s offspring or seed, but that ultimately it is that offspring of the woman that will crush the head of the serpent and defeat him utterly.  We see this at the cross where Satan struck out at Jesus.  Imagine the victory party Satan threw for those three days that Jesus was in the tomb.  And yet he only bruised the Saviour’s heel.  On Sunday morning Jesus rose from the dead and in doing so he sealed Satan’s doom—he crushed his head. The next story we’ll read in Genesis is about the sons of the man and woman.  Cain will murder his brother Abel and the story reminds us that the serpent still has vey real power for a time.  And yet God gives them (and us) reason to hope.  Of course, we all want to know why God didn’t simply crush the serpent right then and there.  The fact is that God’s plan of redemption is for more than our benefit.  Ultimately everything he does for us is to display his own glory.  Bruce Waltke writes, “God delays defeating him finally to work out his full program of salvation to his glory.  Each generation of believers must learn to fight the fight of faith against him.”   God’s curse here establishes two lines: the descendants of the serpent and the descendants of the woman.  The rest of the book of Genesis will show us those two lines, the one as it strays further and further from God and the other as God works out his redemption through its members. In verse 16 we see God’s judgement on the woman: To the woman he said,           “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;                    in pain you shall bring forth children.            Your desire shall be for your husband,                   and he shall rule over you.” Because of her sin, the woman’s once naturally intimate relationship with her husband will be damaged and her joy in giving birth to children will be mingled with the pain of childbirth.  She’s lost her authority, and yet in his grace God promises her that through her pain she will be the mother of the Redeemer.  Her punishment that she will “desire” her husband and that he will “rule” over her underscores the loss of intimacy between husband and wife.  This isn’t a good “desire” or a positive “rule”.  In Hebrew these are the same words used in Chapter 4 when God warns Cain that sin is crouching at his door, “desiring” him, but that he must “master” or “rule” over that sin to control it.  The point is that the woman’s desire will be to control and dominate her husband, but that her desires will be frustrated by his domination of her.  We see this in our fallen and sinful tendencies in our marriage relationships.  And yet hope again comes in Jesus Christ, the Second Adam.  Through the grace we find in him husbands once again exercise servant headship over their wives, just as Christ does over his Church, even to the point of death, and the wife willingly obeys just as the Church obeys her husband, Christ. In verses 17 to 19 we see God’s pronouncement on the man.  Notice too that this is the first time we see adam used as his proper name. And to Adam he said,           “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife                   and have eaten of the tree            of which I commanded you,                   ‘You shall not eat of it,’            cursed is the ground because of you;                    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;            thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;                   and you shall eat the plants of the field.            By the sweat of your face                   you shall eat bread,           till you return to the ground,                   for out of it you were taken;            for you are dust,                   and  to dust you shall return.” The man’s sin was in eating and so his punishment comes in eating.  One thing that’s important to point out is that work itself is not the curse.  We often have the idea that Adam didn’t have to work in order to eat until after he sinned.  That’s not true.  Work was part of the order of things from the beginning.  His duty was to till and to look after the garden.  The curse is that the ground will no longer yield its fruits as easily as it had.  Adam will now have to wage a constant battle with thorns and thistles.  This looks forward to his being cast out of the garden.  The garden was watered by a divine stream, but think of Mesopotamia in comparison.  Despite its being called the “Fertile Crescent” it’s a very arid place and farmers there rely heavily on irrigation systems.  From this point on Adam will be forced to scratch the hard earth and to find ways to irrigate his crops.  Food won’t come easily. The second part of Adam’s punishment reverses his calling to rule over the earth.  Now the earth rules over him.  He’ll spend his life scratching out a living from the dust and when he finally dies, his body will return to that dust.  This is the vanity that the author of the book of Ecclesiastes wrote about so eloquently.  A man can accomplish much in his life, but when he dies he leaves it to someone else.  Eventually his own name is forgotten and his body turns to dust.  On the other hand, however, death is a form of blessing.  Physical death delivers us from an eternity of spiritual death.  In dying we escape from the curse and it’s our death that makes possible a future resurrection to eternal life in Christ. And as God sovereignly turned the desire of the woman’s heart toward himself, he does the same for the man.  We see the evidence of this  in verse 20: The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. “Eve” is closely related to the Hebrew word for “life”.  In fact, in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament, Adam names her “Zoe”, which is the Greek word for life.  Adam understood that because he had rebelled against God and aligned himself with the serpent he had spiritually died, but he believed God’s promise that through his wife would come one who would one day defeat the serpent and put an end to sin and death.  Naming his wife “Life” was an act of faith.  It shows that God was at work, turning his heart to himself and graciously giving Adam the gift of saving faith.  Have you ever considered that?  Adam was redeemed from his sins the same way we are: by faith in Jesus Christ as the one who conquers sin and death.  Adam didn’t know his name, but he trusted that God would provide a Redeemer. In verse 21 we see God take the first steps in teaching his people what that redemption would look like: And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. Adam and Eve had tried to cover their sins themselves with flimsy fig leaves.  God shows them that we can’t deal with our guilt ourselves or on our own terms.  Only he can take away our guilt; only he can cover our sins.  He takes away the fig leaves and he gives them clothes that he has made for them.  And notice the text is specific: these are clothes made of skin.  That means that an animal had to die so that their sin could be covered.  This was the first sacrifice.  An innocent animal paid the price for humanity’s sin.  These skins prefigure the sacrifices that will one day take place in the Tabernacle, and all these Old Testament sacrifices, in turn, prefigure Jesus Christ, the one who will offer himself as the truly spotless Lamb of God, once and for all to cover our sins. And yet as forgiving as God is and as much as he desires fellowship with his creatures, they cannot stay in the temple-garden in their sinful state. Then the Lord God said,  “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.  He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.  (Genesis 3:22-24) God provided for the forgiveness of sins, but the man and the woman were still unholy.  They were forgiven, but they were still sinners.  And what is unholy cannot remain in the presence of the holy.  And so God drove the man and the woman from the temple-garden.  It was also necessary to remove them from the source of eternal life until a way had been made to fully redeem them. It’s interesting that God placed cherubim at the entrance of the garden.  They were there to protect the holy place from unholy people.  More accurately, perhaps, they were there to protect unholy people from entering God’s holy presence, because the presence of the holy is a very dangerous place for sinners.  We see this again when God instructed the Israelites to build the tabernacle.  It was the cosmos in miniature, even built with it’s own “garden”—the Holy of Holies, where God manifested his visible presence with the people.  And as Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden for their sin and the way guarded by two cherubim, in the tabernacle God caused to be put a massive curtain to seal off the Holy of Holies from sinful human beings.  His “mercy seat”—the top of the Ark of the Covenant where his presence rested visibly—was guarded, again, by two cherubim just as the way to the garden was guarded. It was that heavy curtain that kept men and women from the immediate presence of God that was torn in two when Jesus died on the Cross.  On that day when he became the once-for-all and perfect sacrifice for our sins, the way back into the holy place, the way back into the garden, the way back into the presence of God was opened again.  And yet just as it was with Adam, the work of the Redeemer is applied to us only by faith.  We have to admit that we have sinned and we have to humble ourselves before God, giving up the pathetic fig leaves with which we’ve tried to cover ourselves, and instead accepting that it is only the sacrifice of Jesus that can cover us.  We have to give up trust in ourselves and in anything we can do and instead trust wholly in Jesus.  The good news is that once we’ve put it on, the long, blood-stained robe of Christ’s righteousness covers us as we stand again before God’s throne.  Under that robe, God does not see us as sinners, but sees us as he sees his own Son.  Through Jesus, God calls us back into the garden so that we can once again have fellowship with him, so that he can love us as he loves his Son and so that we can love and serve him as we were created to do. Let us pray: Almighty God and Father, you created us to be your servants that you might show you loving goodness to us.  Forgive us for rejecting your love.  Forgive us for our disobedience and rebellion.  In your mercy, graciously turn our hearts away from sin and fix them on yourself.  Open our eyes to the Saviour you have given in your Son, Jesus Christ, and help us to let go the fig leaves with which we try to cover our sins and let us take up Jesus, who died as our once-for-all covering.  Let us live the new life he gives and let us live it consciously in your presence, back in the garden, back in the Holy of Holies, that we might once again give you the glory and honour you deserve.  We ask this through Jesus Christ.  Amen. Franz Delitzsch, A New Commentary on Genesis (Edinburg: T & T Clark, 1888), 1:157. Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), p. 265.
Bible Text: Genesis 4:1-16 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Genesis The Consequences of Sin Genesis 4:1-16 Let me begin this morning by asking: What does sin do to the human heart?  Sin has consequences.  Last week we saw how Adam and Eve’s sin found them out.  The natural consequences of their sin were a fall from innocence and irreparable damage to their relationship with each other and with God.  We also saw God’s judgement on them.  He removed his blessing from them, at least in part.  The woman was told that the joy of children would be mingled with the pain of childbirth.  The man was condemned to living outside the garden—to living in a place where the cultivation of his food would not come easily.  And while God did punish their sin, we also saw God extend a measure of grace to Adam and Eve.  He created them to be in fellowship with himself and even though they rejected that fellowship, we see that he continued to love them and to want that fellowship restored.  He promised them a future Redeemer, who would one day come through the woman’s offspring and we saw him sovereignly turn their hearts away from Satan and back to himself.  But was that the end of the effects of sin? We all know that it obviously was not.  In the next few chapters what we’ll see is that despite God’s grace, humanity’s sin problem is actually going to get worse, not better.  Yes, God has set the wheels of redemption in motion, but in the meantime the Serpent still has power and will subject humanity to his will.  In fact, we’ll see two lines here.  We’ll see the line—the seed or offspring—of the woman, a line in which God will graciously work to bring about the Redeemer.  And we’ll see the line—the seed or offspring—of the serpent, a line of people who ally themselves with sin and with Satan and in whom sin will only get worse and worse.  The story set these two lines up in Chapter 3.  Now in Chapter 4 we’ll see them actually take shape.  Look with me at verses 1 and 2. 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. Names had much greater significance to ancient people than they do to us.  We’ve already seen that with “Adam” and “Eve”.  We’ll see it with their children too.  We’ll also see that humanity’s understanding of our place in the world and of God’s grace has a lot of room to grow.  After they leave the garden Eve becomes pregnant and gives birth to a boy.  She names him “Cain”, a name connected with the Hebrew word for “acquire” or “create”.  But notice her justification for the name: “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.”  This would have grated on Israelite sensibilities.  You might remember back to Chapter 1 and especially to our look at the meaning of “Sabbath”.  God created the world with order.  He set natural processes in place that bring things about, but that doesn’t mean he’s unplugged from his creation.  You and I might plant a garden and attribute its growth to the fact that we planted and watered and weeded.  Ancient people would have thought the same thing, but they also understood that even though they had their part to do, the ultimate growth of their crops was due to God, who is active in those natural processes and who, if he desires, could just as easily hinder the process.  In their understanding, God did the work and it was human beings who helped. In the case of Eve’s naming of Cain I’m reminded of a picture I saw posted on the Internet recently by a friend.  It was the old Wold War II poster of Rosie the Riveter with her “We can do it slogan”, except that in this image, Rosie is obviously pregnant and the slogan was changed to, “I make people.  What’s your superpower?”  Let me be clear:  God has given women a great blessing in giving them the ability to bear children, but it’s not a superpower.  It’s a natural process that God has established in his creation.  The “superpower” belongs to God who is still the one ultimately behind that natural process, who established it and sustains it.  Eve’s statement is a bit like the statement of the poster.  She prides herself on having produced a son.  She gives God credit as her helper, but she sees it as ultimately her work.  As her faith and her understanding of God grow, we’ll see her thinking shift.  When Seth is born she fully acknowledge him as a gift from God.  We’ll see human understanding of God’s role in Creation grow even more when Seth names his own son “Enosh”, which means “man in weakness”.  Not surprisingly, Seth and Enosh are the fathers of God’s faithful line. In Abel’s case, his name foreshadows his early demise.  “Abel” means “vapour” or “breath”.  If Cain is the father of those who try to claim God’s position for themselves, Abel is the father of all those who get the short end of the stick.  Look at the latter half of verse 2 through the first half of verse 5: 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. Abel grows up to be a shepherd and Cain grows up to be a farmer.  Both of them bring offerings to the Lord from the fruit of their labour.  The storyteller blanks the details of the offering and how Cain and Abel knew to bring these them.  The Hebrew word that’s used for both offerings describes a gift to give deference and honour.  It’s possible that the idea of sacrifice for sins could have been included, but the text doesn’t give us enough information to draw that conclusion.  Whatever the case, Adam and his sons made these offerings to God because they knew their place before him and wanted to honour the One who was not only their Creator, but the one who had also offered them mercy when they sinned.  I’ve often wondered if, when God killed the animal to make clothes of skin for Adam and Eve if he might have taken the carcass and also taught them how to offer a sacrifice.  We don’t know.  What we do know is that, at the least, they were recognizing God’s holiness and sovereignty by bring him some of their produce as an offering; Abel offered God animals from his flock and Cain offered him produce from his harvest. But there was a problem.  The story tells us that God found Abel’s sacrifice pleasing, but that he had no regard for Cain’s.  Again, we don’t know how God showed his acceptance.  An old tradition from the Fathers that says that God sent fire down to consume Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s.  Whatever the case, Abel’s offering was pleasing to God and Cain’s was not.  Why?  The popular reasoning that goes along with this story is that Abel was offering a blood sacrifice and that Cain was not.  We get this idea because we know that only blood can cover sin.  The problem is that there’s no indication here that this is an offering for sin.  In fact, later on, when the law is given to the Israelites through Moses, this particular sort of offering was specified to be made with grain.  It was made in addition to blood sacrifices for sin.  So we can be sure the problem wasn’t the actual thing being offered.  A bushel of grain was just as good as lamb. We can see the problem in what the text tells us specifically about Abel’s offering and what it doesn’t say about Cain’s.  Abel gave “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions”.  Abel didn’t wait until all his ewe’s had given birth and he could count up his lambs and decide how much he could afford to give to God.  He knew and acknowledged that they all came from God and so he offered God back the firstborn.  And the text also says that he offered the fat portions.  The fat portions were the best part of the lamb.  In contrast to Abel, we’re told that Cain simply brought “an offering of the fruit of the ground.”  Abel’s offering was remarkable; there was faith and devotion behind it.  Cain’s offering was unremarkable.  Abel brought the best.  Cain brought what he thought he could afford. Let me put it in modern terms.  Abel knew that he owed his life and everything he had to the grace of God.  He loved his Creator and he wanted to thank him for his gracious provision, so he committed, before he ever received his paycheque, to give a generous percentage to God right off the top.  In contrast, Cain felt obligated to give something.  Maybe he knew that he owed it to God or maybe he just felt the pressure to do it because his brother and his father made offerings to God.  Whatever the case, his heart wasn’t in it.  He got his paycheque and he spent it on himself first—maybe even on stuff that we admit he really needed—and then he gave from what was left over.  Do you see the difference?  Abel made an offering in faith.  He didn’t know how things would turn out that year.  Maybe half of his flock would die in a summer drought; he had no idea what would happen, but he deliberately gave generously and in faith.  His offering showed not only his devotion to God, his thankfulness to God, but his faith in God.  In contrast, Cain gave what he knew he could afford, he kept the best for himself, and he gave only what he knew he could afford.  There was no faith behind Cain’s gift.  Bruce Waltke writes, “[Cain] looks religious, but in his heart he is not totally dependent on God, childlike, or grateful.” Because Cain’s gift wasn’t motivated by faith it was unacceptable to God.  How often are we the same way?  How often do we keep the best for ourselves and give God a token?  Brothers and sisters, Abel and Cain show us the difference between true and false religion.  True religion sees the love of God for us.  True religion sees God’s provision day to day for our physical needs and sees Jesus Christ shedding his blood on the cross for our spiritual needs and holds nothing back God.  True religion is rooted in faith that as God has already provided, he will continue to do so.  False religion is all for show, or at best, seeks to quell God’s anger over our sins by making token efforts of religiosity and good works.  The first is pleasing to God; he hates the second. Cain had a decided advantage over us.  The text doesn’t say specifically how, but Cain knew that his offering was unacceptable.  Maybe fire came down and consumed Abel’s offering but not his.  Again, we don’t know how Cain knew, but he knew.  And that means that God gave Cain a very deliberate chance to fix the situation: to adjust his attitude, to grow his faith, and to do the right thing.  But that’s not what Cain did.  Look the second half of verse 5 through verse 6: So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.  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.” Instead of doing what he knew to be right, Cain got angry and “his face fell”—that’s an ancient Hebrew way of saying that he became depressed.  How often does this happen to us?  We know we’ve failed to live in faith; we know we’ve sinned; or we know there’s some good we should have done, but we failed to do it and instead of making things right, we get angry that things aren’t going our way and then when they get worse, not better, from our doing nothing to change we end up spiralling down into depression and self-pity. And yet in God’s response to Cain we see just how gracious and merciful he is.  God doesn’t kick us to the curb when we sin or when we fail to please him.  He never stops loving us.  And so we see him coming to Cain to urge him to change and to warn him to watch out so that his sin doesn’t get the better of him: “Cain, why are you angry and depressed?  You know what’s wrong.  You know that your offerings aren’t acceptable because they show your lack of faith.  Do what you know is right and everything will get better.  But be warned: you’ve put yourself in a dangerous place.  Sin is waiting at the door to eat you alive—to consume your soul.  Either it’s going to master you or you must master it!” But Cain doesn’t listen.  He’s too mired in his sin and in his self-pity.  He sees his brother’s healthy relationship with God and becomes jealous.  And of course the more Cain sees Abel doing what is right it only serves to condemn him.  Since he’s not willing to turn his own life around, Cain does to Abel what the wicked so often do to the righteous: he decided to do away the person whose example was so convicting. Cain spoke to Abel his brother.  And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said,  “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:8-9) Think how God came to Adam and Eve after they had sinned and how, by his line of questioning, he allowed them to convict themselves.  He does the same thing again with Cain.  God knew what had happened, but he comes to Cain asking about Abel: “Where is your brother?”  Cain’s defensiveness gives away his guilt and his response, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” shows his lack of remorse or repentance.  Cain has truly become the seed of the serpent.  When the Jews told Jesus that Abraham was their father, he corrected them: You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44) We see this for the first time with Cain who murdered and then lied to God in an attempt to cover it up.  But God will have none of it.  Look at verses 10-12: 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.” If it seems like this just happened, it’s because it did just happen in Chapter 3 with Adam and Eve.  As he did with Adam, God calls Cain’s attention to the specifics of his sin and then pronounces judgement and what the consequences will be.  And as with Adam and Eve, Cain’s punishment fits his crime.  Adam sinned by eating, so his punishment was that from that time forward he would have to work hard to get the ground to produce his food.  Every furrow he scratched in the ground and every heavy bucket of water he carried to his crops reminded Adam of his rebellion against God.  Cain’s sin began when he failed to trust God for his provision and so God takes away from him the ability even to work the ground—he curses him to be a fugitive and a wanderer.  But again, see God’s grace at work.  Cain refused to acknowledge God as his provider so God now places Cain in a position where he must trust entirely in him to provide. Cain’s punishment also foreshadows Israel’s punishment.  Remember, these first books of the Bible were edited and put together in the form we now have them during the time that the Jews were living in exile in Babylon.  They wanted to know why they had been removed from the land God had promised to them.  God’s exile of both Adam and Cain helped to explain the Jews’ own exile.  Disobedience results in the removal of God’s blessing and it means forfeiting his promises.  Adam sinned and was cast out of the garden.  Cain sinned and was cast out even further.   The people of Israel and the people of Judah had rebelled against God too.  They had lost faith in him.  They had trusted in themselves, and God had let them be exiled to a foreign land.  The more we rebel against God and the more we show our lack of trust in him, the more he will put us in positions and places that will either harden our hearts against him and confirm us in our rejection of him or that will turn us back to him in faith and repentance.  Even when he punishes us, God never stops working to turn our hearts back to himself. This was the time for Cain to repent and to turn back to God in faith.  Instead of confessing his sin and repenting, Cain whines and whimpers about his punishment. Cain 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.” (Genesis 4:13-14) Cain still doesn’t have any faith in God and he’s still wallowing in self-pity.  He just murdered his brother and all he can think about is himself.  And yet this is so often the human condition.  John Dillman, a policeman, tells a true story of two men and their get-rich-quick scheme.  One of them developed a relationship with and married an innocent young woman and then took out a large insurance policy on her life.  While on their honeymoon, he took her for a walk.  He had arranged for his accomplice to drive by in a rental car and as his friend did so, the man pushed his new wife into the path of the speeding car.  Of course, the insurance company was suspicious, investigated, and the two men went to trial.  What really struck Dillman as unbelievable during the trial was the utter lack of remorse on the part of the two men.  They complained how the police were interfering in their lives, pursuing them, interrogating them, charging them.  They complained that they were the real victims and that they deserved consolation, not punishment.   Does that sound a little like Cain?  He murdered his own brother, but his only real concern is for his own skin.  He still doesn’t trust that God can or will take care of him. The remarkable thing is how God responds in mercy and grace even as Cain continues in his self-centredness.  Look at verses 15 and 16: Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.  Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. In a few chapters we’ll see God instituting the death penalty: Whoever sheds the blood of man,          by man shall his blood be shed,          for God made man in his own image. (Genesis 9:6) God gave that command to Noah, but it seems like it should have been applied to Cain.  Cain became angry with God and chose to deface God’s image by murdering his own brother.  Didn’t Cain deserve death?  Yes, he did.  But remember: the Bible is God’s story.  It’s his revelation of himself to us.  He created us to know him.  Adam and Eve walked and talked with him in the garden.  They knew truly knew God.  But because of our sin we now live separated form him; we live outside the temple.  And so God has chosen to make himself known to us again through his Word.  He caused it to be recorded for us first in by the prophets in the Old Testament as they revealed him, his character, and his desire to redeem his fallen people.  The Word Written prepared the way for God’s revelation of himself in the Word Incarnate—in Jesus Christ—who fully reconciles us to God. Brothers and sisters, we may know this as “the Story of Cain and Abel”, but ultimately this is God’s story—a story he tells us that we might know him again.  He reminds us here that he is the God who said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Exodus 33:19, cf. Romans 9:15).  In our self-righteousness we’re outraged by Cain’s sin and we call for justice, we call for blood.  But through his pardoning of Cain, God reminds us that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).  God truly wants to be in fellowship with his people.  His goal is for us to live in his presence in faith and we see that even as he punishes sin, his goal is to draw men and women back to himself. There’s a reason why the text doesn’t tell us how Cain responded.  Did he turn back to God?  Or did he continue on in his sin?  We don’t know.  But, dear friends, it doesn’t matter when we remember the point of the story: God wants us—you and me—to know that he is as committed to loving mercy as he is to justice and holiness.  The lack of a response from Cain puts you and me in his shoes.  Just like him, we have all sinned against our loving Creator.  God calls to us: “Jesus, has done well for you.  Trust him, receive my forgiveness, and turn from your sin.  Live in my presence by faith.”  You and I now have a choice: Will we harden our hearts and continue in our sinful rebellion?  Or will we ask for his gracious mercy, will we turn from our sin and look to Jesus and his cross? Let us pray.  Gracious Father, we confess our sins and our lack of faith to you.  Forgive us for the times when we fail to trust you.  Forgive us for the times when our religion is just an outward show of piety or tokenism.  Turn our hearts to you.  Help us in our unbelief and grow our faith.  As we live with the consequences of our sins and lack of faith, Father, give us eyes to see your loving hand at work, chastening us and calling us back to you.  We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord.  Amen. Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary.  (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), p. 97. This story is told in the book, Unholy Matrimony: A True Story of Murder and Obsession (New York: Macmillan, 1986), and was summarised by John H. Walton in his commentary Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), pp. 267-268.