Closing Thoughts on Genesis

Part of the appeal of this whole project for me, before starting, was the idea that I would get to chew on the spiritual floss of the texts. I was waiting and waiting to just get to one of those verses, or lines that spoke so much to me that it rang through my core and made me think. Not just the kind of think you do when a thought takes up that space in the back of your brain. No. I wanted those deep, moving pieces of scripture which would rattle inside my brain for minutes, hours, days. Something that might make me reconsider a life choice. Something big.

I know that these kinds of golden nuggets full of spiritual plenty exist. I’ve been to church a few times and I’ve been present when the pastor just hits me with something that fills me to brim with intense contemplation. I would walk out of services and question my entire purpose in life. Who am I? Do I emulate the kind of person I want to be? Will God/Jesus/some other deity help me accomplish my goals in life?

Point being, I know that I can find them in the Bible. I just haven’t yet.

Genesis was really fascinating for me to read because I realized that I already knew most things that Genesis talked about. I just didn’t know them the way the Bible tells them. To be more specific, I knew them the way they were told to me as a child.

I didn’t grow up in a religious house, nor did I regularly attend services. But, one of my grandmothers is a devout Catholic woman, and the other is a fairly conservative Christian. I grew up with a sticker Bible on my shelf. Every now and then I would pull it out, read the stories, and put a sticker of Noah on a picture of the ark. I had been told the story of Adam and Eve, but it was always the watered down, child appropriate, mostly agnostic version. I had been told almost every story in Genesis at some point in my childhood, in that way.

Now that I’m done reading Genesis, it’s something that I would like to note stands out for me. Much of the Bible is going to be boring accounts of the number of sheep on all earth, and others will be major spiritual jerky that I will need to chew on in my brain for days. But, Genesis? Genesis is like bedtime stories. They’re what you read to your kids at night, because they’re not super exciting stories, but they tell a tale enough for your little one to listen to before they drift off into their pleasant nighttime slumbers.

I totally appreciate the purpose of these tales in the beginning of the Old Testament, but I am looking forward to something more thought provoking.   

Genesis

I had a hard time reading this from a strictly non-Christian perspective, just because I have read the Old Testament previously, and from the perspective of a Christian. So I’ve read it seeing the “fulfillment” of things as they happened in the New Testament. Now I am trying to read Genesis, not as one part of The Bible, but instead as it’s own piece, or as part of a larger whole, but one that has not seen fulfillment yet and that made me think twice about things as I read. It was interesting to read the genealogies and not see them as tracing from Adam to Noah and from Noah to Jesus, but instead as their own unique thing. When I read Genesis as a Christian, that was the point of them, was to see the lineage of Christ from the beginning, without that, it gives me pause. I know there is a weight to them that I am missing, something from the Jewish perspective that is just out of my reach and I wish I could understand. I hope that coming back in a few months and reading on into Exodus, that I will be able to see some connections.

The language in Genesis, and the storytelling, were both very interesting to me as I read stories repeated several times as if to drive home their importance and other stories, even stories that are considered some of the most interesting stories of the Old Testament (specifically the story of Tamar Gen 38) are told as…interruptions, pauses in the middle of other stories – in this case, the story of Joseph’s life).

At the end of Genesis we will move on to another sacred work, only coming back to the story of Abraham’s line after we begin the story of each of four other religions. I believe it will be interesting to see the creation myths of each religion, the founding documents, as it were, in the constitution of religions.It was good to begin here, with stories I find familiar, and to try to look at them through foreign eyes. It will be better to see the connections in the next works. And thus… onward to the sacred text of Christianity, to the book of Matthew and the story of Jesus.

Joseph’s Story

Joseph, as most of us know, is one of the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel. He is the firstborn son of Jacob’s favored wife, and the second youngest of his sons. Joseph is undeniably the son that his father loved most. On top of this, Joseph was a well-regarded dream interpreter from a very young age; this was important because dreams were thought to be prophecies at this time. All of this made Joseph’s brothers hate him.

In his young adulthood, Joseph began to interpret his own dreams in a boastful manner to his brothers. “Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” (Genesis 37:7) Every time I read this now, I think about how much I would despise a human being who was so unreasonably favored, so prideful and cocky, and so shameless as Joseph is. He basically proclaims here, ‘Hello, elder brothers who abhor me, let me fill you with greater envy as I tell you about how you will become my servants.’

Shortly after this, all of Joseph’s brothers are sent to Shechem to watch over their father’s sheep, and Jacob/Israel sends Joseph after them. Joseph finds them in Dothan, and when his brothers see him approaching in the distance they say, “Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” (Genesis 37:20) Honestly, I don’t blame them.

Luckily for Joseph, his oldest brother, Reuben, was not about to be a part of murdering his brother. So, Reuben spoke up and he told his brothers to not kill Joseph, but instead to leave him in a pit so that he may save himself. After the brothers had stripped him of his belongings and thrown him into a pit, they sat down for lunch. At this time, a group of Ishmaelites wanders by and Judah turns to his brothers with the realization that if they kill Joseph they can’t make any money. “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?” (Genesis 37:26b) So, the brothers sell Joseph as a slave to the Ishmaelites, and the Ishmaelites sell him in Egypt to a man named Potiphar.

Joseph was blessed by the Lord, and He caused everything that Joseph did to succeed. Potiphar was an officer of the Pharaoh, and the captain of the guard in Egypt; and he saw that the Lord made everything Joseph did succeed and so Joseph became an overseer of the man’s house. After becoming an overseer in Potiphar’s house, the wife of Joseph’s master began to cast her eyes on Joseph and asked him to lie with her. Joseph refused saying, “[Potiphar] is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9) Because he refused to sleep with her, one day she removed his garment begging him again to lie with her, and he left the house. Potiphar’s wife proceeded to claim that Joseph had tried to sleep with her and only fled the house because she screamed out in protest. After hearing this Potiphar had Joseph sent to jail.  This is the second time, so far, that Joseph should have been killed, but was not.

After being sent to jail the guards take notice of Joseph and they grant him reign over the cells and their inmates. Years after this, two of the workers for Pharaoh, the cupbearer and the baker, are sent to the jail by Pharaoh. Each of them has a dream, which Joseph interprets for them.

The cupbearer told Joseph his dream. “In my dream there was a vine before me, and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth and the clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup and placed the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.” (Genesis 40:9b-11) Joseph’s interpretation of the dream is that on Pharaoh’s birthday, in three days, the cupbearer will be restored to his position with Pharaoh. Joseph also asked the cupbearer to remember him and to mention him to Pharaoh so that he may be released from prison.

Hearing that the cupbearer had dreamt a good prophecy, the baker shared his dream with Joseph. “I also had a dream; there were three cake baskets on my head, and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.” (Genesis 40:16b-17) Joseph tells the baker the meaning of this dream is that in three days time, on Pharaoh’s birthday, the baker will be hanged by Pharaoh.

And, so, exactly what Joseph prophesied happens. The cupbearer returns to serving Pharaoh and the baker is hanged. But, the cupbearer forgot about Joseph and did not tell Pharaoh about him. It is not until many years later again when Pharaoh begins to have troubling dreams, that Joseph is remembered.

Pharaoh has two dreams. One in which seven plump cows begin to eat reeds by the Nile, and seven malnourished cows eat the other cows. The other in which seven perfect ears of grain grow, but are eaten by seven blighted ears of grain. Pharaoh searched through all of Egypt for magicians and wise men to interpret his dreams, but none could do so. Until the cupbearer told Pharaoh about the man in the jail who had interpreted his dream and the dream of the baker correctly. So, Pharaoh calls for Joseph and he is removed from the prison.

Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream, telling him, “The dreams of the Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what He is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine.” (Genesis 41:25b-27) So, Joseph predicted seven years of plenty in the land of Egypt, and seven years of famine. And at this point he instructs Pharaoh how to handle the famine in order to provide for all his people. This struck me as appalling. There is no way I could walk up to a king or a ruler and tell him how to lead his country without being executed throughout most of history. But, instead of the expected outrage, Pharaoh takes Joseph, an ex-prisoner, and places him in charge of all of Egypt. Joseph is named by Pharaoh only below him in title.

I guess it’s just amazing to me all the things that Joseph is capable of doing in such a short period of time. Firstly, he’s not a very nice man. Second, he arrives in Egypt a slave, sold by his brothers, as a young adult. Then somehow, over the course of what I think is about ten years, he becomes ruler of Egypt, essentially. He is made lord over a man’s house and is accused of committing a crime. Sent to jail, but is not made to suffer, because he becomes equal with the guards. Is afforded the opportunity to speak with the Pharaoh and insults the man and his leadership, but is rewarded for it by becoming second to Pharaoh.

It’s fascinating, but what’s the point?

What is God Like?

The early parts of Genesis talk a great deal about how man is created by, and in the image of, God. I remember when I was young I thought that meant that people looked like God. Like, somehow people had been given the body and face of God. In my more recent, and more intense, readings of this chapter I’ve come to understand this passage entirely differently.

In the creation story of Genesis 1 God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures.” All of these creatures are made, seemingly, of nothing more than earthly materials. By this, they possess nothing more than earth, or water, or air. This is not so with the creation of man.

In Genesis 2:7 “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.”

This implies to me that God has passed a part of the spirit of Himself into man. A soul. This soul is what distinguishes man from all other life. This soul is what makes man like God.

The thought that mankind was made to be “like God” raised a question for me. What is God like?

I think that God is vengeful.

After the creation of man, God tells Adam that he may not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil “for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17b)  This, to me, means that if Adam eats the fruit it will be the beginning of his death, as Adam has eternal life during this time.

Then, in the story of the Fall of Man, after Adam and Eve eat the fruit, God curses each of them with physical pain. I see this as vengeful because God has the choice at this time to simply cast them from the Garden of Eden (and away from the Tree of Life Eternal), but instead chooses to also pain them for their sin.

Then, when Adam and Eve’s first two sons are grown, Cain kills his younger brother Abel. When God curses Cain for his sin, Cain claims that the curse is too great and that strangers shall surely kill him as a wanderer of the land. But, God says that “if anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken upon him sevenfold.” (Genesis 4:15a)

I think that God is unsympathetic.

In the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4), Abel provides an offering to God of sheep, and Cain offers vegetables and fruits to God. God is happy with the offering of Abel but is displeased with Cain’s offering for Cain has not followed a rule that God does not in fact say until after the flood (Genesis 6-8).

Then we come to Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah. When they travel Abram commands Sarai to say that she is his sister because Abram thinks that he will be killed for being the husband of such a beautiful woman. So, in Egypt the Pharaoh takes Sarai as his own wife and God plagues him for taking Sarai from Abram. Then, later they travel to the city of Abimelech, and again Abraham claims Sarah is his sister. Then when Abimelech takes Sarah as his wife, God threatens to kill him for sleeping with Abraham’s wife. Abimelech says to God that he did not know and God says that he knows that Abimelech has “done this in the integrity of [his] heart”. (Genesis 20:6) So, even knowing that Abimelech was innocent, God was willing to kill him simply because Abraham was one of His prophets.

I think that God is egocentric.

The first time I saw this trait was in Genesis 3 when God curses Adam, He curses him for listening to the voice of his wife over the voice of God. Then, later, when all of mankind spoke one language they banded together to build the Tower of Babel to be remembered by. When God saw they were building a monument that was not in His name, He created new languages to confuse them and stop the construction of the tower.

I think that God is loyal.

God promises Abram that his offspring will be as innumerable as the stars, and promised him that he would have a son. Abram bore a child with a servant, which was not the plan of God. But, God blessed the unplanned son, Ishmael, because of the promise he made to Abram. God then also allowed Abraham to bear a son with his wife and blessed that son, Isaac, too. Then, when Abraham cast Ishmael out of his house, God stayed with Ishmael and protected him.

I think that God is demanding.

After He decides to flood the earth, He commands Noah to build an ark. He tells Noah exactly how to build this ark and what to bring onto the ark to survive His flood. After the flood, Noah is told what sacrifice all men must make for their lives.

Then, God commands Abraham to circumcise all his descendants. And then God commands Abraham to kill his “only son”, Isaac. He asks this of Abraham so that Abraham may prove the depth of his faith in God.

I think that God is malleable.

When God told Abraham that He planned to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham begged him to spare the city if there were innocent people in the city. God agreed that He would not destroy the cities if He could find 10 innocent persons there, only because Abraham asked.

Then, in Sodom and Gomorrah, it seemed to me that God never really looked for innocent people there. He saw the people there for one night and destroyed the cities.  However, He does see the good deeds of Lot and sends Lot and his family away to be saved. And, when Abraham is about to sacrifice the life of his son upon God’s command, God sends an angel to stop Abraham. Thus the life of Isaac is saved.

God seems to me to be a multi-faceted character who is both confused and confusing. God is constantly changing His mind; He’s still not sure which expectations He has, and He’s still trying to figure it all out.

Honestly, I kind of feel like (in Genesis) God is a little kid who just got His first dog. He’s not sure how much to feed it or when. He’s not sure what tricks the dog already knows and what tricks He has to teach it. He’s not sure if He wants say “down” or “get down” and so He just keeps using both which is simply confusing the dog. But, God is also young enough that He doesn’t understand the mistakes that He’s making. And when the dog doesn’t listen (because it’s confused, because He’s confused), God gets mad and punishes the dog.

 

Genesis 19:1-29 The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

When I was a Christian/missionary, I made many attempts to read the Bible cover to cover. Several attempts bogged down in Leviticus, Numbers, or the minor prophets. A few attempts were completed. Aside from those attempts, I was a Bible teacher, I taught the story of Sodom and Gomorrah many times, to students of all ages. I thought I knew this story.

Sodom and Gomorrah is a lesson, so I was taught, in what happens when you disobey the Lord. And the sin of Sodom was… well… sodomy. Homosexuality to be precise. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because man lay with man.

And yet…reading through the Bible this time, with no agenda, trying to strip away what I think I know and actually read it as it is… I don’t see that same interpretation available to me.

Now. Before I get into what I see when I read this story now, let me be very clear. Until about ten years ago I believed, strongly, that homosexuality was wrong. That “gay marriage” would bring about the destruction of America and that homosexuals should be…discreet. Then I stopped attending the Southern Baptist church I had been a member of for the previous ten years and drifted on my own for awhile before I began attending a Lutheran church with a friend. Since I left the Southern Baptist church I have not read the Bible on my own, nor have I taught the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, even when I continued teaching in a Christian school.

My current context is…different. About three years ago I admitted for the first time that I am bisexual. I know strongly identify as a member of the LGBT community, I cheered when marriage equality passed and very much enjoy my relationships with women as well as men.

And so I went into reading this story…apprehensive. I wasn’t sure how I would feel reading this story that has always been an example of what God will bring upon communities that allow homosexuality.

I was quite surprised to find that nowhere in the story do I find homosexuality.

The story opens with the angels of the Lord arriving in Sodom to look for righteousness “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah [was] great and their sin [was] very grave,” and God had promised Abraham that he would not destroy the city of Sodom if ten righteous men could be found. (Gen 18:20b, 18:32b)

Lot calls the angels into his home to wash their feet, rest, and then continue on in the morning, but the angels say they will sleep in the town square. I assume this is to better test the righteousness of the people of Sodom, but that is not stated in the text. The men eat, and then, “before they lay down…all the people to the last man,” come to the house and call to him to bring the angels out so they “may know them.” Biblically speaking, to “know” someone, is to have sex with them. Lot offers instead his two virgin daughters, but the townsmen violently reject his offer and demand that he send the men out. (Gen 19:2-8).

The angels of the Lord rescue Lot and tell him that they will destroy Sodom and thus he should leave, and the rest of the story reads exactly as I remember it (Lot and his wife and daughters leave, Lot’s wife looks back at Sodom and is turned to a pillar of salt, and then Lot and his daughters live in a cave.)

Upon rereading this story, coming to it not wanting it to mean anything in particular, I don’t see it as a sign of what will happen to a country that allows homosexuality to flourish. I don’t see homosexuality anywhere in this story. The attempt by the people of Sodom isn’t an attempt at consensual sex, and therefore is not homosexuality. Rather, what I see, is inhospitability. Look here, at this line that stuck out to me as I read, “Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” (Gen 19:8b) It’s not “Do not lay with these men” nor is it a condemnation of man lying with man. It is instead “Do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” It is, by the virtue of having brought them into his home, Lot’s duty to protect and shelter these men, and the people of Sodom would harm them. Yes, through sex “that we may know them” makes that clear, but that doesn’t make the story of Sodom an indictment against homosexuality, rather one against mistreatment of the strangers among you.

In the interest of openness: As I thought about this, and went looking for extra-biblical evidence to either back me up or prove me wrong, I stumbled across this article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-patrick-s-cheng-phd/what-was-the-real-sin-of_b_543996.html which is essentially a shorter and less rambling article that states what I found in this reading.

Genesis 9-12 Noah, after the flood

 A couple of things stuck out to me here, questions that I have for the justness of curses, especially curses given by man to man.

In Genesis 9, Noah becomes drunk (and who wouldn’t after seeing all the people of the earth drowned while he and his family were the only ones saved, not to mention the fact that with the waters receded, they would have had to deal with the physical remains of men and animals that had died a year previous and then spent the ensuing year floating in the flood waters). While drunk he is apparently naked and his son Ham sees him and reports on his father’s shame to his brothers. So, I can understand Noah cursing Ham because he mocked his father’s shame while the brothers came in backwards and covered their father without ever seeing him.

But Noah doesn’t curse Ham. Instead Noah curses Ham’s son Canaan (Gen 9:25-26)

It raised, for me, the question of who is allowed to curse and why those curses are honored by God. As far as we see in the story, Canaan does nothing wrong, and yet he is told that he will be the servant of his brothers, the servant of Shem. This isn’t the first time that we see an Old Testament figure curse someone, even someone that has done no evil, and yet, we know from later events that God chooses to honor this curse and bring it about that Canaan and his descendents serve those of Shem.

Why does God allow this? Why not curse those who dare to curse in his name, or who curse incorrectly? Or are we perhaps only seeing the stories in which the people curse correctly? Which brings me back to the question of why God honors this curse.

I guess it isn’t a huge thing that I’m noticing here, but just more of something that I’m noticing and wondering about.

Genesis 1-4 The fall and curse of Mankind

Because I have spent a lot of time in the Christian world, and I’ve studied a lot of the Bible fairly intently, I am finding the OT an interesting place to start this journey because rather than approaching it fresh I’m really looking at some of the questions that sent me away from the church a half dozen years ago.

I do love seeing the whole plan for salvation laid out so simply in Genesis 3:15

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.

I know, from reading this with Skye, that the plan isn’t laid clear to every reader, I seem to have some interpretations that she hadn’t heard before, which will make further reading interesting. But to me, the plan is clear there. The serpent (“you” in that passage) is Satan and the enmity is that it is through the offspring of woman (Jesus) that Satan will be conquered. Jesus must die (his heel bruised), but in his resurrection, Satan is eventually defeated (his head bruised).

That’s a passage that I always enjoyed when I was a believer, seeing that God had a plan from the moment of the fall, a sacrifice was made (later in that chapter God makes for Adam and Eve cloths of skin, requiring the death of an animal aka the first sacrifice), and a plan laid for the ultimate salvation of man.

Now…I still appreciate seeing the plan, but this particular section brings up so many other questions for me, that I struggle with seeing the flow of it all.

God tells Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17) and then creates Eve (Gen 2:21-22) and yet it is Eve who is blamed for the fall by Adam (Gen 3:12), God (Gen 3:16-17), and then the church. I struggle with why she is held responsible for information that we don’t see her receive. It’s so important to the rest of the story, that, as a writer, I would never leave it out.

My other huge question here is about the creation of mankind. We see the creation of one man (Gen 2:7) and one woman (Gen 2:21-22), but we also see man referred to in the plural in the creation story (Gen 1:26-27)

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of sea…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

(emphasis mine) which when combined with questions over where the wives of Cain and Seth come from, is a confusing conundrum for me. I’ll definitely be spending some time in the next few weeks thinking more about the creation story and where mankind comes from, according to Genesis.

And, in tune with questions about the creation story, Genesis 1 and 2 seem to have a slightly different order of creation and I have spent a lot of time over the years trying to unravel why there are two creation stories presented. In Gen 1 God creates light, water, land, plants, sun/moon/stars, birds and fish, livestock, and then man. In Gen 2:5-7 God creates man before vegetation

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet spring 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 doing 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.

Those two patterns seem contradictory to me and I can’t understand the duality of it.

I will try to approach this with an open mind and to ponder the questions that arise without judgement, but I am very aware of what I’m seeing as contradictions and trying to fathom how they work together which is not exactly closing me off to the experience, but it’s definitely making me look at it on a different level than I expected when I began.