Torah Portion Bereshit
Genesis 1:1 - 6:8
Isaiah 42:5 - 43:10
This year we will be going through the Torah portion cycle with a short teachings under 30 minutes each. Included in this post are the Haftarah portion and the Echoes Through Scriptures from previous years.
In Bereshit, God creates the heavens and the earth. bringing creational order to the void. God creates mankind to rule over His good creation; a king-priest. Yet mankind fails at this job and submits to a serpent, after which his image becomes distorted and he produces offspring that are no longer in the image of God. This story of descent into chaos provides the background for everything else in Scripture.
In these first portions, we will investigate the themes of creation and deconstruction of creation. These themes will recur in the creation of the nation of Israel and will be traced to the resurrected Messiah Yeshua being the firstborn of the new creation.
Order & Chaos
Genesis 1:1 - 6:8
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. We've all grown up hearing this first verse of our Bibles, yet have we ever stopped to consider what the alternative to this famous statement is? Most of people today would probably answer that the alternative to God creating the heavens and the earth is that the earth evolved over billions and billions of years, but have we ever stopped to truly ponder this question? We live in the twenty first century where evolutionary theory is taught in every classroom and so naturally our minds shift to the debates between evolutionists and those who believe that a deity created the universe. Yet the Scriptures were not written to the people of the twenty first century but to a people who lived over 3,000 years ago. Their perception of the world was vastly different from ours and their arguments over the origins of the universe were quite different as well. Nobody believed that the world evolved over billions of years and that humans evolved from a single-celled organism; instead they believed that the world was created by the gods (or God in Israel's case). This is a very important fact to note because it would make no sense for the inspired author of Genesis to write a text to an ancient Near Eastern audience that is intended to combat evolutionary theory! Remember that while the Bible is written for us, it is not written to us. Instead the author's purpose was to show that one God, YHWH, created the universe and that He sustains the universe and that He did so through His word (and God said…). So again I ask, what was the alternative?
Other ancient Near Eastern nations had creation myths that involved the creation of other gods by an original god through spitting, sneezing, and some less-than-decent means of bodily fluid release. These gods then went to war with one another and chaos ensued. Eventually, one god would rise up and wage war upon the hostile forces of the other gods and would either slay them or force them into submission. After this victorious god restored order to the cosmos, he would assign the subdued gods to their places and functions upon the earth and in the heavens. Now we must stop and realize that to the polytheists of the ancient world believed that the objects in nature and also what we today would call the forces of nature (wind, lightning, etc) were in fact each controlled by a different god. Thus, there was a god of the sun, a god of the sea, a god of the river, a god of the storms, a god of the wind, and every sort of god they could imagine. Pagan cultures of that time believed that these gods must be kept happy otherwise they would lash out at humanity through the natural forces under their control. Severe storms, earthquakes, famines, eclipses, and other natural events were all believed to have been caused the gods because of their anger at human actions or inactions, so these people did their best to please and appease the gods. These gods had no sets of rules that must be kept; they were whimsical and liable to lash out at humans for whatever reason. While we can certainly see that there are similarities between the Scripture’s creation account and the myths of the other nations, we must not come to the conclusion that the author of Genesis was copying these myths. Far from it! In fact, it is only through understanding these other myths and how other nations viewed their gods that we uncover the truly awesome statement that Genesis 1 is making.
YHWH did not create the world through battle with other gods, nor does He have lesser gods of various elements of nature that serve Him; He alone rules the cosmos. He alone sets the sun, moon, and stars in motion and He alone causes the wind to blow, the plants to grow, the animals to mate, and the rain to fall. All things come through Him; all life comes from Him! And best of all, He lays out His instructions for us to follow so that we may know what pleases Him, what brings blessings upon us, and what angers Him and causes disaster. Unlike the pagans who often would confess a huge list of possible offenses that possibly caused their god's wrath, we have the Scriptures to study in order to learn where we have gone wrong and what we must do to fix the situation. Embedded in the opening chapters of Genesis, we also have the promise that our God not only created the universe, but that He sustains the universe and ensures that "while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease" (Gen 8:22).
Finally, as if that were not enough, there is one other very important difference in the Bible's creation account compared to the other nation's creation myths and that is the creation of mankind. Unlike the creation myths of other ancient Near Eastern nations, mankind was not simply an afterthought in the creation; simply another animal on the face of the earth. Quite the opposite, man is the pinnacle of the creation, the one for whom all things were created. In these other nations, mankind was created to serve the gods' needs so that they could lounge about in the heavens. Often times men's noise served as an annoyance to the gods that must be quenched, such as in the Atrahasis flood epic from 18th century Mesopotamia where the great flood was to kill off almost all the humans because they were annoying the gods with their noisemaking. Instead, we see throughout Scripture that YHWH invites those who are being oppressed to cry out to Him so that He can come to their rescue! YHWH created man in His own image, in His likeness. He created man in order to build a relationship with him and to set this man as the king over all of the creation. In our schools today, our youth are taught that mankind evolved from animals, that we are in fact simply highly functioning animals just as the ancient pagan nations believed. The logical conclusion to such a mindset is that if we are animals, we should just give in to our base desires, give in to premarital sex, adultery, homosexuality, substance abuse, violence, and even mass murder. It is no coincidence that the decline of Judeo-Christian culture in America today has coincided with the rise in immorality in the mainstream culture. Our God, however, does not consider us to be animals, He holds us to a higher standard. He demands that we rise above the animal kingdom by fighting against our base desires and submitting our lives to His will. He does not require that we never have the desire to commit adultery, murder, homosexuality, theft, and other immoral behaviors. What He demands is that we fight these desires, that we subject our evil inclinations, that we put such thoughts out of our minds. In order to rule over the creation as was Adam’s mandate, we must be greater than the creation and what follows throughout the rest of the Torah is YHWH's instructions on how we are to rise above the animals and submit ourselves to His will.
The Lost World of Genesis One by John Walton
Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament by John Walton
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