The bleak ending of Genesis 1-11 concerning the sinful condition of all peoples transitions to a fresh start with the narrative of Abram, who would become an instrument of blessing for all peoples. What mankind wanted to obtain apart from God—a great name for themselves—God promises to Abram. And yet, through the gracious blessing upon Abram, in contradistinction to the self-absorption of the Babelites, he will be an agent of blessing to others. While the structural marker of this sixth section pertains to the generations of Terah, the focus of Genesis 11:27-25:11 is Abram, who is Terah’s youngest son. Great promises are made to Abram—promises for which Abram will need to grow in trusting God. For, in addition to being given great promises, Abram will face great obstacles. The challenge for Abram will be growing in his confidence that the Lord can be trusted. Starting with the startling call to take his barren wife and leave his family, to the climax involving the scary requirement to offer his only son as a sacrifice to the Lord, Abram will face no less than twelve serious obstacles. He slowly learns to trust God.
While Genesis 11:1-9 depicts God’s judgment toward yet another expression of human rebellion; it also displays a measure of God’s grace. The Lord’s decision to scatter humanity had the effect of preventing them from working together and accomplishing even fuller portions of sinfulness. The language barrier brought sudden fear and prevented unification. Destroying the common bond that united sinful people was gracious. Frustrating the communication abilities and subsequently dispersing sinners, who wanted to live without God and make a name only for themselves, to the ends of the earth was a good thing.
Noah goes off script and offers a sacrifice to the Lord. This sacrifice, which previews and is actually in accordance with the sacrifices in the Mosaic code (see Exodus 30:28; Leviticus 20:35) reflects the trust and gratitude before God that is required of all true sacrifices. Thus, God accepted Noah’s sacrifice: “the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma” (8:21). Noah had found favor with God and therefore his sacrifice was acceptable to Him. In fact, such an offering of worship affected God’s attitude toward all mankind: “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done” (8:21). Whereas God cursed the ground because of Adam (3:17), He promises to not curse the ground because of Noah. The heart that changed was God’s, for man’s heart was still as evil as it was on the eve of the flood. But God’s heart went from grieved to satisfied. Noah’s priestly work was intercessory and atoning for all mankind, for his sacrifice was symbolic of him offering himself to God.
The first unit, which is primarily about Noah, opens with a very positive assessment about him: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (6:9). Like Enoch before him, Noah walked with God. In sharp contrast to his generation, which was “corrupt in God’s sight, and…filled with violence” (6:11), Noah was righteous and blameless. Noah’s blamelessness suggests that he lacked the guilt in the matters of evil that was widespread in his generation. Noah’s righteousness indicates, in contrast to the wicked of his generation, that he abided by God’s moral standards. Of course, being blameless and righteous grew out of Noah’s genuine relationship with God—“Noah walked with God.” We must not lose sight of the fact that before these positive things were said about Noah, it was first said: “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (6:8). The grace of God-undeserved and unearned-places believing sinners in relationship with God. That grace also produces a blameless and righteous in them before God and others. Noah (and his immediate family-wife, sons, and their wives) is not spared because of their own skill and might; but solely by God’s grace.
Walking with God is the glaring notation concerning Enoch out of all the other genealogical data in Genesis 5. Enoch, the seventh from Adam through the line of Seth is the sharpest of contrasts to Lamech (the one from Genesis 4:18-24), who was the seventh from Adam through the line of Cain. While the statement “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (5:24), should get our attention, Genesis 5 is not explicit as to what that really means. However, when we look over at Genesis 17, the notion of walking with God is used in conjunction with God’s covenant with Abraham: “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly” (17:1-2). Thus, the meaning of walking with God pertains to living in relationship with the Lord through enjoying and fulfilling the terms of the covenant relationship. Walking with God is a way of life that expresses trust in the Lord as well as love for Him in the details of how one lives. Israel was given the opportunity to experience the same relationship with the Lord that Enoch had: “If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land” (Deuteronomy 30:16).
Genesis 4:1-26, which begins and ends with a birth and the worship of God, contains three movements. Each movement is prefaced with Adam (who is here called man), Cain, and then Adam again, each knowing their wives, which resulted in births (4:1, 17, 25). So, 4:1-16 pertains to man’s descendants; 4:17-24 pertains to Cain’s descendants; and 4:25-26 returns to Adam’s descendants. And yet, the main thrust of this chapter is its introduction of the first children born to Adam and Eve—Cain and Abel and the circumstances behind the first murder. Whereas Genesis 3:1-24 dealt with the breakdown primarily between mankind and God, Genesis 4:1-26 concerns itself with the further fragmentation between human relationships.
As a result of his part in the rebellion against God, pain would also accompany the man’s life. And then he would die. The man’s sentencing begins with the reason for the sentencing: “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’” (3:17). The man’s sentence begins: “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” (3:17-19). Man’s physical and emotional pain will stem from the ground being cursed. Now thorns and thistles will accompany “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (2:9). Man sinned by eating and so now he would have to suffer in order to eat. It will now be annoying and hard to obtain sustenance. And a long hard life will last: “till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (3:19). Man might have desired to be like God, but in death his true nature is revealed—apart from God, he is just dust. Frustrated and finite, life will continually witness to man of his utter dependence upon God.
The crafty serpent only speaks twice. But it is all that is needed to offset the balance of trust and obedience between Adam and Eve and their God. The dialogue between the serpent and Eve begins with a question: “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (3:1). The serpent’s first step was to cast doubt on what God had said. But not simply to cast doubt on what God had said as much as to begin calling into question the essential goodness of God. Of course, since God reveals His character through His Word, to cast doubt on God’s Word is tantamount to casting aspersions on God Himself.
By forming the woman from the man (God took a rib), God is demonstrating the essential equality between the humanity of male and female. Then as God took the “woman and brought her to the man” (2:22), we have the imagery of God presenting Eve to Adam, as a bride to her groom, showing the special gift woman is to man. Things went from not good to good. In what are the first recorded words from Adam, he agrees, exclaiming joyfully: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (2:23). Adam’s statement not only reflects the loving dignity that a husband must have toward his wife, but also the cherishing honor toward the one whom God has designed to assist in fulfilling his calling.
Adam’s priestly role overlaps with his kingly role expressed in chapter 1: “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” (1:28). How does this verse’s description relate to Adam being placed in the Garden? As Adam and Eve were called to rule over and fill the earth, they would begin where they had been placed—in the Garden—but they were to extend and populate the geographical boundaries of that Garden until Eden became a Holy Garden City that covered the whole earth. While the tragedy of Adam’s rebellion horribly interrupts this process, the Scriptures culminate with God establishing a glorious Garden City that revisits all the imagery of Eden (Revelation 21-22). Adam’s botched mission would not stop God’s agenda from being accomplished. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:4).
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