As you begin to read Genesis 1, you may feel a little disoriented with how the creation of the world is being described. In the beginning you find dark waters rather than the void of space, light is being created before the sun, there is a vault holding back the waters above the sky, and the sun and moon are somehow ruling? The way this text is speaking doesn't neatly fall into the categories we already have for how the world is and how it came to be. But Genesis 1 makes much more sense when we understand how ancient people conceived of the world.
The Biblical authors do not think how modern people do. We need to step into their shoes to understand their point of view. So much more of what the Bible says will make sense when see through their eyes.
1. Ancient Israelite Cosmology Explained
The ancient authors believed in a flat earth structured as three-tiered universe: Heaven, Earth, and Underworld. This is reflected all over the Scriptures. But we know the earth is a globe flying through space and circling a giant ball of gas that gives off light and heat. Does the Biblical authors' ancient worldview pose a threat to their credibility and relevance for us today? Watch the next video for one answer.
2. Does the Bible Teach Science?
God communicated through imperfect messengers who had pre-modern-scientific beliefs. God's aim was not to teach science, but to tell everyone who God was and what their relationship with him was. God does not endorse unscientific beliefs, but he used people who held them. Scripture has always intended to communicate realities about God that transcend even the next thousand years of scientific progress.
Even though God knows so much more than us, he communicates with us in ways that we can understand. We may never understand things the way God does, but he gives us everything we need to know to thrive in this world and in how we relate to him.
LESSON 2:CHAOS AND CREATION
September 25, 2019
Read Genesis 1:1-10, 20-21,
Today we focus in on these chaotic waters that appear in Genesis 1 and elsewhere in the Bible.
Instead of picturing nothing before God begins his work of creation, we get the picture of dark waters (Gen. 1:2).
These chaotic waters represent the exact opposite of what God is doing in creation.
God is bringing order from the chaos, which enables life to flourish.
The sea was a common symbol of chaos in Ancient Near Eastern mythology.
It will be used again and again in the Biblical story pointing back to this moment in Genesis 1 and the theme of chaos vs. order.
Watch this video from the Bible project which outlines this design pattern.
1. Design Patterns in Biblical Narrative (second example)
Genesis 1: Creation (separation of the waters to create dry land) Chaotic Waters -> Splitting the Waters to Create Dry Land -> Dry Land of Creation for Humanity
Genesis 6: The Flood (de-creation: the chaotic waters from before creation are returned) Violence-filled World -> Chaotic Waters Return (Flood) but Noah Preserved on Ark -> Humanity 2.0
Exodus 14: The Exodus through the Sea (separation of the waters just like Gen. 1) Slavery in Egypt -> Splitting the Red Sea -> Salvation on Dry Land
Joshua 3: Into the Promised Land through the Jordan River (harkening back to the Exodus) Wilderness-> Splitting the Jordan->The Promised Land
Isaiah: Exile in the Nations Imagined as the Chaotic Waters (Figurative) (17:12-13 talks about the nations using Flood language) Slavery in Babylon -> Coming out of Exile in the Nations -> Back to the Promised Land
Matthew 3: Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan River (all previous OT imagery being tied into his Death and Resurrection) Old Humanity (Slavery to Sin) -> Resurrection through Death (the new Exodus) -> New Humanity
Matthew 8: Jesus Calms the Storm on the Waters (with just his word he subdues the chaotic waters--like Gen. 1)
Revelation 21: No More Sea (the final picture of new creation without the presence of chaos)
Bonus Theme Connections (because it's all over the place):
The wilderness wanderings after the Exodus are certainly patterned into the same framework, even though they used a desert instead of water, the concept of uninhabitable wasteland still remains.
The conquest of Canaan in Joshua also imagines the Israelites being like a flood of judgment coming upon Canaan with language similar to the Exodus (Joshua 8).
The story of Jonah takes him into the sea and out again.
Paul takes the theme of Chaos vs. Order and applies it to church living in 1 Cor. 14:40.
God brings order out of chaos, life out of death.
Chaos in Neighboring Origin Stories
We know that the sea as chaos is a common symbol in Ancient Near Eastern mythology--let's take a look at a few examples and see how they compare to the Biblical account of creation.
In the Babylonian (Enuma Elish) and Canaanite (Baal Epic) origins of the universe, we see that creation is the result of a great battle of the gods.
Babylon: Marduk vs. Tiamat (the sea, described as a monster/dragon/leviathan)
Canaan: Baal vs. Yam & Tannin (the sea and sea monster)
But Genesis 1 doesn't depict a battle of the gods. Yahweh (the God of Israel) simply speaks and creation is ordered.
You even see "sea monsters" in Genesis. "The great creatures of the sea" in Gen. 1:21 NIV is the Hebrew word "tannin." Which also appears in places like Psalm 74:13: "It was you who split open the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters."
2. God vs. Sea Monsters
Genesis 1 is an origin story that has been crafted partially in response to these neighboring origin stories. We see that:
Yahweh has no rivals. He simply speaks reality into being.
Yahweh is depicted as a royal artist, not a bloodthirsty warlord.
And as we'll see soon, Yahweh has made humanity as partners in ruling the world, not as slaves.
The origin story in our Bible helped the ancient Israelite people understand how their God was different from the gods of their neighbors. It gave them a story to help them understand how Yahweh created everything, and how he is therefore more powerful than the gods their neighbors worshipped. This story showed them that Yahweh is one who brings order to chaos and life out of death. This story inspires worship and praise.
Here we're stepping into the shoes of the ancient readers who would be thinking about the gods of their neighbors as they read this origin story. Did Yahweh do battle with them like the Babylonian origin story talks about? Is he an equal with these other gods? The other nations believed in river gods and sea gods and sun gods, etc. It was very common for ancient people to see the sun, moon, and stars as being or representing spiritual beings. Some of these spiritual beings seem to work in harmony with Yahweh (his divine council, or the sons of God), others seem to be in rebellion from Yahweh (gods of the nations and the satan). What's the origin story of these spiritual beings? If Yahweh created everything, including these gods, why do these nations around us worship gods that are not Yahweh?
1. Spiritual Beings
The core story lies in the fact that Yahweh wants to partner with other beings in how he rules the world. He wants to share his authority. The humans are called to this calling (Gen. 1:26) as are the spiritual beings (Gen. 1:16-19, Job 1:6). But some of these beings have rebelled and want to do things on their own terms, apart from Yahweh and his way. There is a parallel story running behind both the human and spiritual rebellion in the Bible (the same language is used in Genesis 3 for humanity's rebellion as is used in Genesis 6 for the sons of God -- they "saw" that something was "good" and they "took" it).
The Rebellions of Genesis 1-11:
A rebel of the divine council lures humanity into rebellion (Gen. 2-4).
More divine council members try to restore eternal life to humans by impregnating women (Gen. 6). These distorted half-human, half-gods that resulted were said to be the ones who founded the mighty nations surrounding Israel, like Babylon (Nimrod in Gen. 10:8-12).
More divine council members lure the empire of Babylon into rebellion, resulting in the nations who worship idol-gods (Gen. 10-11).
The building of Babylon in Genesis 11 functions to show human and spiritual rebels trying to elevate themselves back up to the heavens. After this rebellion, it is said that Yahweh gives the nations over to the rebel gods, but has kept one people group for himself (Deut. 4:16-20, 32:8-9).
These human and spiritual beings don't want to represent Yahweh's authority, they wanted to be Yahweh. So Yahweh gives them over to their own authority and we get to see how well that works out for them.
"Elohim" is the Hebrew word behind the generic word "god." It is used for both Yahweh and all other spiritual beings. The other "gods" we see in Scripture are just other spiritual beings, often in rebellion against the God who created them all.
3. Divine Council
The Divine Council or Sons of God are Yahweh's heavenly staff team that collaborate with Yahweh in running the world (Job 1:6-7, 38:4-7, Ps 89:5-7, 1 Kings 22:19-22). Some of them work with Yahweh, like his messengers (or "angels"), but others rebel against Yahweh and seek to do their own will. These rebels have been given limited authority on earth and are referred to in the story as the "gods."
There are two layers to the rebellion we see in the world: human rebels are being corrupted by the worship of the gods (the spiritual rebels). Just like the nations during Biblical times, we see many people even today worship or give their allegiance to the gods of money, sex, and military might.
4. The Satan and Demons
The Satans and demons are rebel spiritual beings who are pulling Yahweh's good world back into chaos. We get glimpses into seeing how they are at work behind the scenes, animating division and hatred between humans and tempting humanity to be divided against Yahweh himself. These evil powers (including the power of death / the grave) are said to be behind evil power structures (like kings and rulers), personal conflict (like Cain and Abel), and the weakness and disease of our bodies (Matt. 4:23-24).
Though Jesus was victorious over these evil powers on the cross, they have not yet been destroyed. In the meantime, we resist them by putting on the character traits of Jesus as if they were armor (Eph. 6:10-20) and by holding on to the good news that Jesus has conquered these evil powers, sin, and death itself. He will restore all of creation to the way it is meant to be, without evil and death.
Familiar questions that may grace our minds at one time or another.
The first pages of the Bible give us the beginning of an answer to these questions
1. Image of God
2. The New Humanity
LESSON 5:THE TEST
November 6, 2019
Read Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31, 2:15-17, 3:1-19 - Matthew 4:1-11, 6:9-13, Luke 22:42
1. Design Patterns in Biblical Narrative (first example)
LESSON 6: UNITING HEAVEN AND EARTH
November 13, 2019
Theme: Two Becoming One
1. Heaven and Earth
Theme: God with Us
LESSON 7: The promised Seed
November 20, 2019
Read Genesis 1:11-12, 27-30, 3:1-19
The Biblical authors choose their words carefully and only use sparing detail. Focus on the language of fruit/fruitful and seed/offspring (zera) and consider why the author is using this language.
The Bible as Jewish Meditation Literature
In the first lesson, we saw how the Biblical authors hold ancient understandings of the world (a flat, three-tiered universe). They also wrote literature in a way that is pretty unfamiliar to modern westerners. Learning how they wrote will help us to see just how brilliant they were in the way they crafted these stories together.
Sometimes, the lack of detail in these stories will leave you with a bunch of unanswered questions. But as you read further into the story, more of these puzzle pieces are unlocked. The more times you read and re-read these stories, the more you will discover their intricate and powerful truths and how they affect your life. Below, you will see an example of how reading further into the story can make certain details come alive.
The video on "The Bible as Jewish Meditation Literature" has pointed to one core biblical theme that begins here in Genesis 1 and makes waves all throughout Genesis and the rest of the Bible: Offspring. See how the literary geniuses that composed the Bible weave this theme through the entire story.
Look for a repetition of the word and concept of "offspring" throughout the Bible.
Hebrew:zera. Often translated as "offspring," "descendants," and "seed."
Genesis 1: God creates a world full of life that is meant to multiply and thrive (to be fruitful).
Plants bearing seed (fruit) as an abundant source of food that God has gifted to his creations (1:11-12, 29).
Humans commissioned to be "fruitful": to multiply and fill the earth in the image of God (1:28).
Genesis 3: Instead of imaging the God who gives, they distrust their creator and break the abundant/generous way of the world.
Plants will not yield their food easily any longer(3:17-19).
Human multiplying will be painful through childbirth (3:16).
But a future "seed/offspring" of the woman will crush the one who brought distrust and death (3:15), but is still struck in the process.
Genealogies of the Offspring: Adam to Noah to Abraham to David to Jesus.
In the middle of these family lines, there is conflict about the promised offspring that is to come.
Difficulty bearing children, brothers trying to kill each other, temptation of child sacrifice from evil gods, etc.
Eventually, the promised offspring, Jesus, is born, and begins the restoration of the world back to the way of abundant life as he crushes the head of the evil that brought distrust and death.
Sacrificial Seed: We begin to see the theme of this "seed/offspring" that is to give its life so that others may live.
The stricken offspring of the woman in Genesis 3:15.
The suffering servant who is the seed of Jesse in Isaiah 11 & 53.
The vision of the woman and her offspring (Jesus and his followers) who gives their lives to defeat the dragon in Revelation 12.
And in between, tons of the offspring who are unjustly persecuted and end up bringing life to others (think about the story of Joseph).
(There is also a major perpetual conflict and conversation about food/fruit, but it's more of a side conversation alongside this theme. Imagery surrounding food/fruit becomes the language in stories and parables that human flourishing is compared to.)
The world was created in a state where life was flourishing through the generosity of God, but humanity has chosen their own path that focuses on selfishness rather than generosity. This path has affected our relationships with each other, with God, and even the world as we know it. We can see just how bad things have gotten when God himself, as the innocent Jesus, was unjustly killed by our selfishness. But Jesus has been raised up and offers a new way of life to humanity. We are able to participate in this newly sprouted humanity and to be people who give generously and help life flourish. In this broken age, the way this often looks is to be people who sacrificially give and love others, imitating the path that Jesus first walked.
You can see how complex and wonderfully intricate the Biblical story is when you see with the eyes of the authors. Begin reading Genesis and read it multiple times throughout our series. You will begin to see with their eyes as well.