“Jesus is our Jubilee. In his voice we hear the trumpet sound that tells us we are free. He is the incarnation of the year of Jubilee.” – Michael Card (quoted from Dennis Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, pg. 57).
“If evil is ‘invincible’ as a dimension of being, and yet a factor in our progress, should we conclude that it will never be defeated and ‘cast out?’ Although Ricoeur does not say so, it seems a logical conclusion to draw. Only historical (and thus responsible) evil may be vanquished and perfectly eliminated. Historical evil, sin, the foe of both God and humankind, and true hope–to be distinguished from dialectical reversals- go together. Only if the problem is historical will the solution happen. Maybe the link between the two human ‘heads’ of Romans 5 is stronger and more essential than many have thought.” Henri Blocher, Original Sin: Illuminating the Riddle, pg. 62
BW COMMENT: Blocher is taking up the issue of whether Genesis 2-3 are narrating historical events or whether the fall of mankind should be read as some kind of transhistorical myth, a timeless truth about humanity. Though a mythical reading would certainly help square the Biblical text with current scientific belief about the origins of human life, it creates significant soteriological problems. If evil is simply a part of reality that has always been there as “a dimension of being,” it is presumptuous to speak of its ultimate defeat. After all, it’s always been there, regardless of the beginning of life. Belief in a historical conquest of evil only makes sense if there is also a historical beginning to evil.
Now it’s possible that someone is willing to make the sacrifice and say, “I concede that evil can never completely be gotten rid of in the world.” But if you do make that concession, you’ve also undermined the pursuit of justice in the world, because you’ve conceded that justice cannot ever actually win. Strangely enough, social justice as a meaningful pursuit hinges on a belief in a historical origin to evil, because without that belief, it is a non-starter to posit a historical defeat of evil (at the resurrection, Jesus’ second coming, or at any other point).
All this is to say that, while it fits nicely with contemporary science to argue for a mythological reading of Genesis 2-3, the fallout from that it is ethically devastating.
One of the weirder aspects of Genesis is how long everybody lives. Adam lived 930 years. Noah lived 950 years. Abraham lived 175 years. These astronomically-high ages have garnered quite a bit of scholarly attention.
Are the ages so high because ancient people counted time differently than we do in our Gregorian calendar today? Is it because something else is afoot in these genealogies that owes itself to genre and authorial intention? Are the ages so high because the effects of sin upon human mortality had not completely ‘come home to roost’ yet? Was creation itself, in a manner of speaking, ‘fresher’ and therefore more capable of sustaining life? Difficult questions. Yet, if one assumes that the “years of Genesis” are roughly equivalent to our concept of a year (365 days), an observation emerges.
It has been noted before on this blog (here) that the transformation of the patriarchs by divine grace is a key element of Genesis. If indeed year means something like year for us, then we should notice that this transformation took a real long time. Abraham sets out at the age of 75 (Gen. 12:4). It was around 50 years before his climactic test of faith with Isaac at Mt. Moriah. For Jacob, it’s a good 20-30 years before any significant spiritual fruit starts to emerge in his life (and he was already relatively old when he met God at Bethel). With his son Judah, it takes probably around 20 years for his eyes to open to his (very obvious) sins against Joseph and Jacob.
Confusing as the age issue is in Genesis, taking it at face value seems to have the benefit of reminding us in a palpable way that transforming grace does not accomplish its purpose overnight. It was a long pilgrimage for the patriarchs, and they made plenty of mistakes along the way, but God did refine them by his mercy. And if that process does take (a long) time, then relax about how long it’s taking in your life! We need to have patience as God does his work in our lives and the lives of his people around us.
Found these words in Iain Duguid and Matthew Harmon’s book, Living in the Light of Inextinguishable Hope: The Gospel According to Joseph. In the section quoted, they focus on Genesis 38 and Judah’s woeful choices:
The level of Judah’s self-deception and blindness is both astonishing and frightening. It is astonishing because, as outside observers, we can see that he is so clearly in the wrong. But it is also frightening because we so naturally do the same thing. Like Judah, we are prone to live in cities of lies–distorted versions of reality, overlaid with a thin layer of our own innocence and self-exoneration. All of us suffer. At some point, we all also suffer from the actions of other people. But what so often happens next is that a legitimate reflex goes into overdrive. It is good to be able to understand that some of the evil that happens to us is outside our control; we are being impacted by the sin of others. Our ability to make a distinction between things that are our own fault and things that come from others is a learned skill. Often children do not yet have that skill. As a result, when something bad happens, such as their parents getting divorced, they assume that they themselves are somehow responsible. However, having recognized that we sometimes suffer because of someone else’s sin, we can twist that knowledge in order to find ways to blame all of our suffering on other people. We can become blind to our own guilt, and that blindness can make the harmful effects of our own sin against others even worse.” Duguid and Harmon, Living in the Light of Inextinguishable Hope, pg. 36
Thankfully, the story of Judah is not ultimately one of failure and deception, but redemption and illumination by God’s grace, but Duguid and Harmon’s words are certainly challenging to read. The issue of self-deception/blindness to sin reminds me of this question from the Westminster Larger Catechism:
“Q.28. What are the punishments of sin in this world?
A. The punishments of sin in this world are either inward, as blindness of mind, a reprobate sense, strong delusions, hardness of heart, horror of conscience, and vile affections; or outward, as the curse of God upon the creatures for our sakes, and all other evils that befalls us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments; together with death itself.”
The price (“punishment”) for putting ourselves at the center of everything is that we must go blind to seeing the world or ourselves as these actually are. Creation is such that we cannot pretend to be the King and still see things truthfully.
“And in its biographical sketches, character change is what Genesis is all about: Abram becomes Abraham; Jacob becomes Israel. Particularly in Jacob’s family we see examples of character change: Reuben, violator of his father’s concubine, later shows great concern for both Joseph and his father, while the upstart cocky Joseph becomes the wise statesman who forgives his brothers.” Gordon Wenham, Genesis 16-50, pp. 364.
BW COMMENT: Genesis is foundational for understanding God’s redemptive worldwide purposes. But catch what Wenham is saying about this thoroughly redemptive-historical and covenantal book. Through these expansive creation-renewing covenants, the hearts of God’s people will be changed, too. God’s covenants do not merely bring renewing grace to objective, external time and space history. But as God’s people wrestle with those promises, Genesis shows God’s covenants bringing renewing grace into the deepest (and ugliest) recesses of the human heart (Or at least beginning to bring that grace into their hearts).
So, if you are wondering how do you preach, teach, or study the same Abrahamic covenant themes again and again (because you will see the same old Abrahamic promises again and again and again for approximately 40 chapters of Genesis), look at how the characters respond to those promises. At times, they will respond incredibly poorly to them. So, ask how do we respond poorly to God’s gracious promises like them? But generally, as their narrative arc progresses, there will be some grace-wrought change in their lives. So, ask how those promises can transform our own struggles with the (same) sins that the Patriarchs struggled with?
12ff. Sheep-shearing was a festive time (cf. 1 Sam. 25:4, 11, 36), when sexual temptation would be sharpened by the Canaanite cult, which encouraged ritual fornication as fertility magic. The word for harlot in verses 21, 22 suggests that Tamar posed as a cult-prostitute, perhaps to make doubly sure of her victim. The veil of verse 14 seems to confirm this, since (if Assyrian law is any guide) no prostitute except a (married) cultic one might wear it.
Such was the world into which Judah had married. The prophets (e.g. Hos. 4:14) report its corrupting power over Israel for generations to come.” Kidner, Genesis, 200.
What caught my eye in particular was Kidner’s comment about Judah marrying into the ‘world’ described in the previous paragraph. Do people understand that in marriage we are marrying into a new way of seeing the world, and that way of seeing the world can be beneficial or destructive? You don’t just marry a person, you marry a world that is not your own, and it is one that you will have to live in. Better think carefully about who you marry, then.