PENTATEUCH Notes (of 2014)
On the 1st Creation Story: An Overview of the Text 1/1-2/4
1. It is our world that Gen 1 is talking about. The text may have been written during the Babylon times—the exile times. So the picture given may have been so marked by the culture of the Babylonians. We should not expect a modern scientific presentation of the world—this is not what the text is showing. The author had a different point of view. One thing is clear. This is a “story” (see 2/4).
2. What we can note is that the text is so organized in writing style. Let us focus on two repetitive refrains. One is this: “evening came and morning came, day X”. The other is this: “God said”.
Part A: the six plus one days
1. There are six-plus-one days. Each of the six days is refrained by the phrase “evening came and morning came, day X”. The footnote given by the New American Bible (see the NAB in the internet) is very instructive.
2. Days 1 to 3 happen with the work of separation. Light and darkness separate. Then waters above separate from waters below. Then the waters below separate from dry land. Day 1 is parallel with day 4; day 2 is parallel with day 5; day 3 is parallel with day 6. They all deal with the chaos of verse 2. Day 1 takes care of the darkness covering the abyss. Day 2 takes care of the abyss. Day 3 takes care of the formless earth.
3. The separations done by God prepare for the next three days. Now there is time—the alternation of day and night, morning and evening. Now there is space—waters are separated and dry land is available. With the dray land available, it is now possible to put living creatures there. So there are separations in preparation for the presence of life—and moving creatures. The sun, moon and stars are given the order to govern day-night, light-darkness.
4. Note again: Day 1 is parallel with day 4—they deal with light-darkness and time. Day 2 is parallel with day 5—God puts creatures of the sky and of the sea. Day 3 is parallel with day 6—on the earth are the earthly creatures, humanity and the vegetation.
5. The balance or harmony of the text—with its parallels—suggest the balance of the created world. A picture of a clear plan or project of God is presented to us, readers.
6. The seventh day is a break from all the six. This is why we say “six-plus-one”. Note that on the seventh day there is an insistence on “finished”…”completed”…”work undertaken”. Work is finished/completed and there is a definite stopping of work…a rest. This makes day seven a unique day. It is a separate day. Yet it is still participating in the time style of the six days. Day one allows for day and night. Day four completes it and makes it “official”. The stars and the sun and the moon also shows the seasons. Now on day seven the time style is weekly. (Well, day seven is Sabbath day, which means “to rest” and the word sheba means “seven”. Possibly then the author put the two together…there is Sabbath rest on the sheba seventh day.) Now this weekly time style is not governed by the stars and the lights of the sky. It is time that God has given. It is God who sets this weekly time. Also, we that God blessed the seventh day and God made the seventh day holy. The reason is given: he rested. Holiness and rest seem to be inter-linked.
Part B: the ten words (God said)
1. Now look at the text in terms of the refrain “God said”. Notice how a chain is made after each phrase of the “God said”. So “God said”…and then something happens…and then “God saw”…and then “God called”….and finally “evening came and morning came, day X”.
2. Check it out: God said, God saw, God called…. But it is not that simple. It has twists here and there. Let us verify.
a. Word One Verse 3: “God said….” Then what happens? Then “God saw”. Then “God called”. Finally, “evening came and morning followed, the first day”.
b. Word Two Verse 6: “God said….” Then what happens? Now, there is no mention of “God saw”. Then “God called”. Finally “evening came and morning followed, the second day”.
c. Word Three Verse 9: “God said….”. Then what happens? Then “God saw” and “God called”. There is yet no “evening came and morning followed, day X” because the day is not yet finished.
d. Word Four Verse 11: “God said….” Then what happens? Then “God saw”. We do not see “God called”.
e. Word Five Verse 14: Notice that we see “God said”. But there is an addition. It is like he gives a command added to what he has said. What happens next? Again there is an addition…like a clarification of the command to govern. Next we see “God saw” but there is no “God called”. Then “evening came and morning followed, the third day”.
f. Word Six Verse 20: “God said”. What happens? Notice that what happens is what God “created”. Then “God saw”. Instead of God calling, what does he do? “God blessed”. (God blessed what he created.)
g. Word Seven Verse 24: “God said”. What happens? We are told that “God made”. Then “God saw”. We do not see “God called”…this is not here. There is still no “evening came and morning followed, day X” because the day is not yet ended.
h. Word Eight Verse 26: “God said”. This is similar to the chain of verse 14. Here “God said” and additions are given. Also there is a command given. In verse 14 the lights of the sky are given a command. Now, with the human, another command is given. Something is similar to both: govern. It is a kind “ruling over”. But here, for the human, the word is “dominion”…to have dominion over. The lights of the sky will govern the time. The human will have dominion over all the animals.
i. Further observation: In verse 26 God seems to be talking to someone…there is the “us”. “Let us make….” Now just like in the case of the birds and fish, here with the human we read that “God created”.
j. Word Nine Verse 28: Here is a curious turn. God blessed “God said”. Now, just like with the birds and the fish that God created, with the human a blessing is also given. There is a difference between the blessing to the birds and fish and the blessing to the human. For all there is “fertility” and “multiplication”. But with the human there is “dominion”. Now we do not read here “God saw…good”. (So also in the second day when God put the dome to separate the waters, we do not read “God saw…good”.
k. Word Ten Verse 29: “God said”. But notice that this time what “God said” is about the food that the human and the other animals will eat. God tells this to the human—God tells the human what food is to be eaten. The human is informed. Then what happens? The “God saw”—or rather “God looked”. Finally we read “evening came and morning followed, the sixth day”.
Questions that may arise
1. So we see “ten words” or “ten-and-God-said”. When God speaks—when “God said”—it is effective. There is a pattern but with variations here and there.
2. The text itself can make us ask many questions. One question is that of the light. What is this light in verses 1-3 before the creation of the moon, sun and stars? God gave blessing to the birds and the fish…God gave blessing to the human. Why did God not give blessing to the beasts of the earth? Why are the birds, fish, earth creatures and the human…why are they vegetarian and why is there is distinction between the food of animals and the human?
3. Given the data we have observed, we can now try to see what this “story” is telling us about God—and ourselves. The questions we raise here will have to be addressed—and in doing this we can have an idea of God and the human. We can discern something from the first creation story.
The First Creature?
Light, so the Genesis tells us, is the first creature coming from the word of God. God said let there be light. Without light how can we see the other creatures that God will create? Genesis tells us that light is a creature of God which is different from the darkness. Darkness, again if we follow Genesis, is not from God’s word and it already covered chaos from the start. Light does not mix with the dark. Light has its place…so too the darkness, it has its own place.
We can see this separation when we look at day and night. Of course with our city lights we might not be so aware of this separation. Yet we know the clear difference between light and darkness. Noon is clearly not midnight.
We may have had the experience of being in the middle of an isolated place at night—like in a desert or in a forest where we see the sky. We stare out into the dark sky and we see the stars and maybe the moon too. The experience is telling us how light and darkness are so distinct. They are really separated.
We might see this separation as a fight…a combat. We may have been exposed to some type of literature or film telling us that there is a battle between light and darkness. So we tend to associate light with good and darkness with evil. But the Genesis story does not show this. There is no combat between light and darkness.
The “opposition” between light and darkness is more about where God had chosen the area of his creative work. In the work of God what we see is God’s desire for life…that there shall be life. So light tells us about the presence of God who desire life. The creative work happens now that God let light be.
God in Chapter 1:
Part One, the Victory over Chaos and the Place of Each of Us
1. There is a kind of obstacle we put, very often, when reading a text—like that of the Bible. We read and we let ourselves be guided by our habitual thinking…based on past training and formation. So when we read Gen. 1, for example, we are already influenced by our ideas and we make projections on the text. Instead of letting the text show its evidences we start immediately with our ideas. So we fail to notice what the text is presenting.
2. Translating “in the beginning”…tendency to see it as a temporal event. But the Hebrew word does not signify beginning in the sense of time. Rather it is “premise”. Hence we see why we said that the root word is “head”.
3. See places where the same word is used in other parts of the Bible: Gen 49/3; Dt 21/17. See the idea of “first fruits” to mean “the best fruits”—a quality: Ex 23/19 Dt 26/2. In Wisdom literature the sense is “principle” or “foundation”. See Pr 8/22 and Job 40/19.
4. What then do we see with the work of God? God will transform chaos. The author of Gen is saying that God has victory over chaos—that God does an act of “salvation”. Gen. describes the “style” of God and also his principle. How does he do it—this “victory”?
5. First, let us look at the chaos. The earth is formless and shapeless. Again, we can look at the help from other Bible verses to appreciate the Hebrew meaning. See: Jer.4/23. Is.24/10 where we see a devastated city. In Dt 32/10 we see a sad desert of death. The inverse is a “created world”—a world free from devastation and desolation, see Is 45/18. See Jer 4/23-27.
6. Darkness? What is this? It is associated with chaos. See Is45/19 Jer 4/24.
7. Abyss? It is the turmoil that threatens—like the violent movement of water that threatens to destroy and kill. See Jonas 2/6 and Ps.42/8. The abyss can also be see as the world of death: see Gen 7/11 and Ex 15/5.
8. The New American Bible mentions the “mighty wind” which is usually translated as “God’s wind” and even “Spirit of God”. What is this wind doing? It is “sweeping”. It is a movement—a trembling movement (see Jer 23/9) or a “hovering” movement like an eagle over its chicks (see Dt 32/11). So the image is that of a storm over the face of the waters.
9. God is present, the “wind” symbolizing power: see Ez 37/1 and 1Kg18/12. So God’s power is hovering. Note that this wind is outside chaos. It is not part of chaos. The mighty wind has a distance from chaos ready to get involved…ready to act. But as it hovers it is “under control”.
10. Now verse 2 and verse 3 are so inter-connected. Why? Well, in verse 3 we read: “and God said”. The mighty wind is hovering—it is powerful…yet “trembling” in suspension…in waiting. With this power God does not add to the already turbulent chaos. God holds the power in control. Then suddenly: God speaks to say: “let there be light”.
11. Note how, first God controls the might wind—the power—to later invest in word. So the mighty wind of God prepares the theme of the whole “poem” of the first creation story. The word of God is creative. (The Psalmist saw this: see Ps 33/6). The wind of God is powerful but it is held in control…. It is mastered….and well “spoken”. The power is not lost but it is not a wild power—it is a creative power…it is word. (See Ps107/25-26 and Jonas 1/4).
12. The word of God is…bright! See Ps 119/105 & 130. This is a typical Biblical theme (see Ps 19/9 Pr 6/23…(well, try even the New Testament with 2Pet.1/19). This light does not need the stars or the other lights of the sky.
13. So the very first thing that God wants is “being”…”let there be”. We do not need to go very deep into this verb—and it will require so much time. But just in passing we can say: the name YHWH has, in it, the sense of “being” (like “He is”). So the creative speaking of God that at the start wants “being” to arise is connected to the name of YHWH.
14. To Separate
15. One of the main actions of God is to separate. God separates light from darkness. With a dome God separates waters above from waters below. God separates the waters below from dry land…the dry land is isolated from the waters. God also separates time—day and night and seasons. The first four days are spent on separating. In fact, even the vegetation are separated in verses 11-12—“plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree”.
16. The lights also are separated. There is the moon, the sun and there are the stars: “two great lights, the greater one to govern the day, and the lesser one to govern the night, and the stars” (v.16).
17. On the fifth day note the grouping of the sea animals and the birds. (see verse 20-21).
18. Look at the beasts. There are different separated sorts (see verses 24-25).
19. God seems to be doing this a lot: separate…distinguish….set differences. Each separated creature is “very good”. Each is given a place in connection with the whole!
20. Meanwhile, there is nobody—that is, no human, yet. The human comes towards the end. So, in principle, there is no human yet to tell the story of the first five days. So there is someone who talks about what happens in the first days! This “someone” shows what happens starting from his culture, his observations and beliefs. He even talks about God.
21. So what is this author doing? He constructs a story—a world—in which the reader discovers as the world around. The author is like saying to the reader: “look, this is the world around you”. The author tells the reader about the order of the world which the reader can observe. So, in a way, the author is also saying that God is not just inside the story…God is, in fact, acting in this world around you! The world around you is real. God in the story is also God in the reality of your world.
22. The reader—like us—is in front of a text that talks about the world around. So we are not just reading a text in front of us…we are inside the text. We do not just interpret the text we also interpret the world around us.
23. So what do we see in the text and in the world around us? We see separations and distinctions. We read in the text that God worked with separations and we see it around us. The text tells us that God spoke to make the separations possible…”and God said”.
24. The separations give basis for the difference—and uniqueness—of each reality. Each being has its place, its part, its limits. And each being is within a web of links and relationships with other beings. Each has a place, a role, a usefulness. God has established this separation. He has said that “I am not the other and the other is not me”. … and that’s ok….it is “good”….”very good” in fact.
25. Here we can appreciate the power of God. God separates and this is integral to all reality. In other words, each being—or creature—is what it is and this uniqueness is not self-made. This is how we were created—each of us.
26. So, by this point we realize that the creation story of Chapter 1 of Genesis is not exactly a “philosophical discussion” of the start of all existence. It is a theological reflection about the reality around us—a world of relations, yes, and of limits and uniqueness.
God in Chapter 1:
Part Two, God’s Power
1. God shows what his power is—and two forms seem to emerge. In the first four days, God looks authoritative. But note that God destroys nothing. God does not do violence on any. The chaos itself—even with its negative features—is not destroyed nor deleted.
2. The mighty wind of God is controlled—and articulated even if it is “mighty”. The darkness is not removed. It is made the opposite of the light. It is, in fact, in alternate role to the light to give pacing to God’s action in the next days.
3. The abyss and the waters are not deleted. They are integrated in space that God would see as good.
4. Chaos is not deleted. Far from that! God gives a limit to chaos—that chaos is placed within a frame of harmony with the rest. God’s power is, yes, powerful, but it is tempered—it does not exercise violence and it is not destructive.
5. Look next at the creation of the other creatures, notably the vegetation and the animals. The power of God is here a life-giving power. It is a life of many forms….distinct from each other…unique. They are fruitful. God tells the fishes, birds and the human to “be fruitful and multiply”.
6. God does not monopolize fruitfulness. God does not even control the fruitfulness of the creatures. Be fruitful…that’s it! The creatures can bloom…yes….even without the Lord God!
7. Note that God delegates power. The mastery of time is delegated to the lights in the sky. The spatial world is put under the delegation of the human…under the responsibility of the human. God’s power is delegating power….(or to use a modern term, “empowering”). Thanks to this delegation of power, God can rest on the seventh day. God is not an intrusive God. God does not invade. God delegates and empowers.
8. So God rests…God takes a distance. God looks at all that he has done…the results of his word. These are beings other than God. Very good!
9. Now, this seventh day tells us something about the power of God. It is not enough that God delegates. It is not enough that God gives life. God also takes a distance, looks at what he has done and in this distance he allows the creatures to be what they are…each is what it is and be. In God’s taking distance we may exist. We are allowed to be who we are.
10. The seventh day is separated from the first six days. It is a specific—special—day. It is “holy”…it is “sanctified”. (See 2/3). During this day God makes no order, God makes no production. Yet, this day achieves all creation. Look at verse 2 of chapter 2. God completed the work…God rested… It is in “retirement” that “completion” is done. Without this retirement, no completion is done.
11. God continues the separation…and this time he separates from work. He stops. He puts an end to the exercise of his power. God imposes a limit to his power. This shows how God is master over his power…he has “mastery over his mastery of creation.”
12. Now, the fact that God has delegated powers to the other creatures, God does not want to do everything. To the creature who is not God, there is place where God need not be there! It is your work…your delegation. This is especially important for the human.
13. Look at the end. Let us quote the verse: “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation” (2/3). God takes the risk…while not monopolizing power and control. The path is now open to enter into partnership with God—to enter into “covenant”—in which partners are free to assume their roles and responsibilities and limits. God takes the risk that we assume our lives and freedom.
14. So we see the beauty of the “Sabbath distance”. This has been present from the start. We see a God who maintains his power. He masters over his mastery. He retains his mastery, holds it in abeyance. In fact, God takes the initiative to go on distance to open space for others—that they live. The God we are used to think of is a God of superpower who monopolizes all…such is the God we make. But Genesis presents us with a God who is “sweet”…he stays master of his own mastery. He does not force himself. Such is the God “in the beginning”—not in terms of time but in terms of foundation and principle.
The vocation of being Image
1. Now God gives a blessing to the human and makes a further precision. Yes, be fruitful, multiply…fill up the space. Yet there is more: dominate. So we read: “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth” (1/28). Note the words “subdue” and “dominion”. Already in verse 26 we see this “domination” too.
2. To dominate is itself a feature of God. From the start—with the mighty wind—God is already “dominant”…God is “master”. (In fact, “mastery” is a more appropriate word than “domination”). By telling humanity to be master over the other creatures, God is already telling the human to be just like God. In the image of God, as image of God, dominate, be master.
3. The word “subdue” is said to be from a Hebrew word (radah) that is associated with, say, crushing grapes and making them raisins (see Joel4/13). When there is conflict between persons, “subdue” also enters (see Lv 26/17). The power of the King is to subdue (see 1Kg5/4 and Ps110/1).
4. The word “dominion” is said to be from a Hebrew word (kabash) is like making losers in a war subject (see Nb32/29 and 2Sam8/11). It can also mean service of slaves (see Jer34/11 and 16).
5. So the words “subdue” and “dominate” are not soft words. They imply the use of force and power. It is the same power we see in God—like when God separates the waters. But power is not the only feature of God. The power of God, as we saw, is mastered power. It has a certain “brake power” to it.
6. What about the human who is called to be powerful like God? Let us look at the food that the human must eat. The human is to eat grains and fruits. The other animals will have the other green stuffs. See verses 29-30. This final word of God—the designation of food—is curious. It is in the end…like a final statement that seals a discourse. It is highly significant.
7. Note that the food talk comes after the command talk. Subdue and dominate—then this is what you eat. Note that in the food that the human will eat, a limit is given. The power of the human is given its limits. Yes, exercise your power—but without the extent of violence. To eat and feed oneself, there is no need to kill the animal. There is grain and there is fruit. Furthermore, there is no need to compete with the animals regarding food. The animals have their meals, the human has his/her meal.
8. Mastery over the animal must be free from violence. After giving the human power, God defines the limits of this power. Yes, the human may have “sovereignty” and domination…but there is a way to exercise this power. The alimentation symbolizes peacefulness. Dominate yes, but with peace.
9. Now, the human, just like God, is to give limit to power: it is the respect for the life of the beasts and respect for the place of the beasts. The animals—the beasts—have their space…their place…and the human must respect their right to “bloom” too. The human is created in the image of God and must know how to make to learn how to resemble God.
10. So the human presides with peace—a kind of wonderful pastoral work over the world. This explains why the big beasts (unlike the fishes and the birds) are not give the blessing to be fruitful and multiply. The animals on land are to put themselves under the care of the human. They participate in the blessing given to the human. They too can be fruitful and multiply but under the “auspices” of the human.
Extending the reflection: mastering mastery
11. The whole story is, of course, anecdotic. Remember that the Bible is not a scientific discourse. It is not a historiography. It is a literature and a theology reflecting on the experiences about God and human life. The vocation of the human is presented as a vocation of mastery…domination.
12. The human is created in the same day that the beasts of the earth are created…on the sixth day. The human receives the same blessing as the animals of the fifth day. The human is sexual—male/female and is multiple, divers, God created them. Thus, the animal feature is not absent from the human. “Animalness” is not outside the human. To be animal is integral to our being human.
13. To be animal is thus an object of mastery—we need to be master over our “animalness”. But it is a mastery that is respectful, dignified and not violent. We master over our “animalness” in the style of God. God mastered his mastery….we too must do the same. We also have our mighty wind…our forceful words….we also have our tohu and bohu, our chaos. As image of God we stand master over our animalness and our chaos. This is what each of us must do…and it is also what society is called to do.
14. Look at our being “male-female” (1/27). We are to be masters over this and move from male-female to man-woman. Let us face it, there is something “energetic and forceful” in us. They are neutral, ok. We channel them as we remain master. We channel our forces to “be fruitful” and “to multiply”. If we do not recognize our limits, we degenerate into violence and aggression.
· We are like the animals of the sea—with things hidden in us…in the depths and the dark.
· We have the flying animals in us….free and moving about escaping the here and now.
· We have the crawling animals in us…our emotions, affectivity, secret planning, etc.
· We have the wild beats in us, the “savage” and possibly violent.
· We do not destroy these forces—we do not destroy the animals in us—we do not kill the “animalness” in us. If we do that we might see certain unexpected results—maybe even uncontrollable. We take time to deal with our “animalness”…and it might be a whole life work!
15. This is a social work too. This is not a surprise. Note that the tribes of Israel are symbolized as animals (see Gen 49 and Dt 33). Just look at how nations deal with each other—“eating” each other up, with wars, violence, etc. Yes, power can be strong and forceful—but it must be non-violent and respectful. A nation or society that does not know how to master its mastery crushes others.
16. To be human then is to be master over one’s mastery…to take hold of forces within, to know how to channel energies and domesticate the “animalness” in us. If we submit to our chaos, then we become image of our animalness…not of God.
17. In Is.11/6-8 we see this beautiful image symbolized by wild animals together. We resemble God—we are like God when we master our mastery. Yes, we are “image of God”—that is given to us. But we are called to play our part as being “like God”.
18. Look at God—and God speaks. It is in speaking that God puts to effect his mastery. It is the mighty wind articulated properly. It is the speaking that sets in proper order what is chaotic. We too are invited to “speak” in creativity and not in destruction and violence. We are invited to speak as “pastors” of our “animalness”…never use speaking to serve deceit and violence.
19. To be image of God, however, is not just to be master of mastery. God is not just a master, he is also a “sweet” master…a “gentle” master. It is in gentleness that our being image is also called to be.
20. We see in us the fact of being God’s image. In our being masters, we participate in the well-being of our societies and of the world. In our gentleness, we are like God. We allow life to emerge—and bloom. We are called to consent to our limits! It is there where we are at our best—gentle and creative. God took a risk—his Sabbath risk. We too are to make that risk.
The Garden Story: Part One
From 2/4 to 2/17
1. There are two creation stories. They were put together (during the Babylonian-Persian era) even if they looked so different. There must have been a reason. The first story is a “wide angle” story. The second story—the story in the garden of Eden—is a “zoom in”. Notice that the second story zooms in more on the human person.
2. So even if there are two stories that really have different angles, there are elements similar to both of them. In the 1st story there is a task given to the human. Be master over the created world, but it must be a mastery like the mastery of God. So be in the likeness of God. God took a distance from his mastery—God “mastered God’s own mastery”. Be gentle as God. The 1st story symbolized this with the food to eat—grains and fruits and not the animals. Note then that THERE IS A LIMIT TO WHAT TO EAT.
3. You are not just an animal male/female. You are also man/woman. Your food tells you this. So move from the beast inside of us and become truly human. But do this with gentleness—no violence is to be done to the animal in us nor the animal in society.
4. The 2nd story also has a task given to the human. Work the garden…care it ok. How is this task symbolized? It is symbolized also by food—what food to eat. The fruits from the trees in the garden can be eaten…but not this particular fruit. This is the famous 2/16-17. Again note also that THERE IS A LIMIT TO WHAT TO EAT.
5. Appreciate how eating and what to eat are strong symbols in the Israelite world.
6. Ok, so let us study the 2nd story. Let us focus on two major themes: 1. The human—ha’adam and 2. The command regarding what to eat.
7. Before we even continue, let us be clear with one point. From verses 5 to 17, please avoid saying “man”. Our Bible translations use already the word “man”. But for purposes of discussion, do not say man. Say “the human”—ha’adam.
A view of the verses:
1. Notice that the second part of verse 4 is similar to Gen 1/1. There are three major parts in the 2nd creation story. Verse 5 is the prelude. Verses 6-9 are the first stage of creation. Then 10-17 form the second stage of creation. Read them.
· What do we see? There is no vegetation. Why? Because there is no rain and there is no ha’adam to cultivate.
· v. 6: water
· vv.7-8: human from eath
· v.9: vegetation
· vv.10-14 River
· v.15: The human—ha’adam—is to cultivate and to care for the garden.
· vv.16-17: the command about what to eat
2. At the start, there is a “lack”. There is no vegetation…because also of other lacking things: rain and the human. But then there is water and the human becomes possible because of this water from earth. Earth is adamah. The earth is ha’adamah. So there is a play of words. Ha’adam the human is from ha’adamah. Which else is from ha’adamah or earth? In verse 9 we see the trees are from the earth too. Later on, in 2/19, the animals will be shown as also coming from earth.
3. So all of them—the human, the trees and the animals—are from the earth, the ground—the ha’adamah. A common nature links all of them. In the human then is a nature that is in common with the other creatures.
4. The human and the beats are both modeled out of the ground—both are “fashioned” out of the ground. We get an image of a potter and clay. This modeling is not mentioned in making the plants. So the human and the beast have the same link as fashioned by God’s hands.
5. Now, the human is from the ground—from earth—and the human will return there. Abraham will say this: I am but dust and ashes (18/27). Genesis 3/19 will confirm this. So, keep in mind that from the very start, the human is going to die. Death is part of the human condition. The human, the beasts, the trees….all will die! (Philosophers will say that unique to the human person is the capacity to reflect on death!)
6. Now, the human will be so different from the other creatures because of the breath of God. Breath is communicated to the human. This reminds us of the might wind in the 1st creation story—a wind that articulates in creative speaking. The human will show this capacity to speak. The breath of God links with the breath of the human. As we shall see, for the 2nd creation story the mastery of the human is manifested in speaking.
7. The human is like the animal—from ground. But now the human is linked to God—by breath.
8. Now, the human is in the garden….a delightful place. The garden needs cultivating. To cultivate (‘avad) is not just to work on the soil, it is also to honor. So to cultivate is at the same time to respect. This explains why modern theologians like to call the human as “steward” of the earth.
9. In the 1st creation story the human is called to master over the created world. Here in the 2nd story, the human is called to serve or, again in modern terms, the human is called to be “steward”! The garden is to be respected and honoured—not abused. Know your limits….do not abuse the garden. Care for the garden….do not abuse it.
10. The human is to care for the garden and IN RETURN the garden will protect the human (gan/ganan: gan, the word for garden, is from the verb ganan, “to protect”). In the garden, the human feels safe.
The command about eating
1. Now we arrive at the point when God gives a command. This is the famous—at least here in MAPAC—command about eating: Genesis 2/16-17.
2. Here is a note in translation. Bible experts will show the original translation at the end of verse 16: ‘to eat you will eat”. In verse 17 also there is more close translation: “to die you will die”. So there is a kind of poetic presentation of the command. As for the prohibited tree, the translation closer to the original is that it is a tree “to know” good and evil. The usual “tree of the knowledge of….” Is less accurate. It is closer to the original when we see the word know as a verb…”to know”. So “good and bad” are direct objects of “to know”. If we think deeper, this clarification of translation will make us appreciate better what exactly is this tree, which we will discuss later.
3. Note that the command—yes it is a command—is given in the 2nd person: “you”. So it is directed to the human, it is not about God. It is not about what God must do.
4. The first part is positive—it is not a prohibition. You may eat…go ahead! You may eat from all….. But the second part gives a warning. A limit is given to the first command. It is a word of caution. Be careful, to refuse limiting the “you may” exposes you to danger.
5. God is not keeping exclusive hold of knowledge. In fact, God is showing…sharing….the risk to avoid going to peril. God is transparent and open in telling the human what to avoid. God here is not a selfish/naughty God. God is generous….life-giving. God is telling the human how to bloom! God is warning the human about craving. When we crave we have the tendency to give-in totally to our desires and refuse limits to desires. When we give-in, we see what happens! We lose control…we get into so many conflicting situations….rivalry, jealousy, exclusivity, using each other, inordinate pleasure, we kill, we steal, we tell lies, we do perverted things, we intoxicate ourselves disorderedly, etc. Traditional theology uses the word “coveting”.
6. God puts a limit—a warning against a deadly risk. The limit educates. It is not invasive. God does not invade the human desire, God educates it. Be educated about life…for to live is to accept that we cannot know all, we cannot have all, we cannot just do anything we want. In life there is a “lack”. It is a given fact. Remove this lack and pretend there is no lack….we die.
7. Of course we will die—we are from the ground. Physical death is natural and this too is a fact. But there is the death of “being human”. Death here, as given by verse 17, means: “I cease to be truly human”. Again we see that the command is not invasive. It respects human freedom. It is not a command designed to choke. It is a command that educates. God gives room for the human to decide. God is telling the human where is death and where is blooming life. This is God’s risk. Will the human have confidence in the command of God? Will the human “let go” of totalizing oneself? Part of this risk is: what will the human think of God now that this command is given? (Later on, the serpent will play with this.)
8. Now we talk about the tree of “to know” good and evil. There is a lot of ink that flowed to study this. Let us try exploring the position of Wenin.
9. It is through this particular tree that the human will know. God takes the risk. God gives a command. Will the human be disposed to accept or reject the command? Will the human be disposed to opt for good/bloom or to opt for bad/death. Will the human take the good or the bad choice? Well, the human also can ask: is this command good or bad? So it is around the tree that good and bad hinge. How the human will respond to God will determine what the human will know!
10. Is this not what we, readers, also experience? The author must be addressing also the reader. We always experience limits. We also experience choices and decisions in life. At times we are faced with situations in which we wonder if a decision will be for the good or for the bad. We have radical limits to knowing good or bad.
11. In front of others, we are not so transparent. We do not know fully the plans and thoughts of the other person—just as the other person does not see all inside of me. This is our human condition. Even with respect to ourselves we see how we do not know all. I do not know myself completely.
12. So, we are educated to learn how to accept limits—embrace limits. We cannot pretend to be in control of all. We cannot know all. We cannot be in-charge of all.
13. In the story, knowledge is not prohibited. God is showing what leads to peril…it is in the way of living as if there is no limit. In the story what is prohibited is not knowledge but twisted knowledge. What is prohibited is to think and behave as if there is no limits….I can do as I want, reject others, own others, manipulate others, impose on others….etc. What is prohibited is when I say: “I know all, I shall have it all”…to totalize. Drop confidence in the words of anybody else. (Is this not a description of hell?)
It is not good to be alone
It is not goo that one is left in solitude. Who is this person in solitude? A man, a woman? Ha’adam…is this person man or woman, masculine or feminine? Before we continue, let us work with this question.
Was Adam a Man?
1. This is a very “technical” question because it touches on evaluating the Biblical text with close inspection. Let us try doing our reading. The difficulty, according to Bible scholars, lies in the translations.
2. The question is relevant. Why? Well, in most cultures there is a “sad” treatment of women. Men always get the “high marks” and women…well, they have to work harder to get their respect. Now, could the Genesis book have contributed to this treatment of women? Often the garden story of Adam and Eve seem to give the impression of justifying the predominance of man over woman. Could Genesis contribute to the inequality treatment of women? In anthropology you might want to check out the issue of “patriarchal systems”.
3. Certain translations of the Bible may have contributed to the cultural mentality of making women unequal. So we see the crucial role of Genesis 1-3 and the place of “ha’adam”…the human. Was he masculine? If yes, then the woman pulled out from his side would be a “next to man” creature. Is man the first and the woman second—being “just taken from the man”.
4. If we look closely at Genesis 1/26-27, God made—created—adam as male/female. God made them and they shall dominate. The plural sense may be an indication that this “adam” could be both and not just an individual. So we read: “And God said, ‘Let us make man [adam] in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth’. And God created the human in His image, in the image of God He created the human; male and female He created them.”
5. Let us look at Genesis 2-3, the garden story. Traditionally the story is interpreted as a creation of the man first then the woman next. Our catechism surely has already taught this. Well, a Catholic priest and a Protestant Pastor try to see things differently. Maybe they can help.
Andre Wenin, Catholic priest
1. For Wenin, Adam is “human”. The original Hebrew word is ha’adam—“the human”. Adam is from the ground/soil/earth. Adam receives breath from God. God puts the human in the garden. But, this is not so easy to manange. Why? If we go to 2/18, we read that it is not good for the human to be alone—the ha’adam should not be alone. Who is this solitary human? A man? A woman? For Wenin this solitary figure is not yet define sexually. This ha’adam is still “non-differentiated”. Wenin recalls certain commentaries of Jewish Rabbis. Let us quote one:
2. Rabbi Samuel b. Nahman said: At the time that the Holy One, Blessed Be He created Man, He created him as an Androgynos. Resh Lakish said that at the time that [Adam] was created, he was made with two faces, and [God] sliced him and gave him two backs, a female one and a male one, as it says And He took from his sides,“ (see http://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/2013/09/androgynous-adam/)
3. Wenin sounds convincing. But there are things that need to be clarified—and Wenin does not seem to be so clear. One difficulty is that when the woman is made, the woman is led to adam who, at this point, is man/male. (See 2/22).
4. The adam seems to be so joined with man, hereon. Now, towards the end of the story after the so-called “fall”, God looks for Adam. If we read closely, the dialogue is between God and adam as man. The woman is at the sidelines. Then we read that God puts adam—as man—out of the garden…as if this man was alone! So Gn 2/22 and 24 still give us an adam that is man/masculine.
5. Wenin would say that the Genesis author would continue to use the name Adam to insist on the “whole human”. It is a literary style. Well, check it out. Feel free to make your reflections. Wenin himself accepts the difficulties of the text and he feels it is not absolutely clear. But he would say that we cannot simplify too much ha’adam as exclusively man/masculine.
Protestant Pastor Litta Basset.
1. Basset begins with a surprising commentary. The Bible is written by human authors who are already marked by sin. There is no Biblical text written before sinning.
2. So this implies that the Genesis author, that of the garden story, wrote from within a culture marked by sin. Bad things have been happening—and that was so obvious (as today). So part of the cultural bad things happening was the inequality given to women. This already found its way in the writing of the Genesis text. Women—even today—can read the Genesis garden story and see their own conditions in it. The adam-in-the-garden story is a story of human “fall”. We all are “fallen”…we all sin. So as we look at the Genesis garden story we are actually also looking at our own fallen state.
3. So the story of the garden and human falling is not a story that explains. It is a story that expresses. (It is a crying story.) It is a story revealing the human condition.
4. So evil/bad is already inside the Biblical text. Do not therefore interpret the text as a justification of the inequality between man and woman. Instead, read it as a revealing text. It reveals the evil/bad.
5. Adam as man is the one God talks to. The woman is made “for” the man. The woman is “pulled out”—derived from—the man. The condition of the woman is to be a function for the man. Her vocation is to be “woman for man”.
6. Adam man is associated with the powerful God, creator. Just as God who creates, man names. Remember it is the man who names the animals—yes, the man and not the woman. The man can do things without the woman…like name things.
7. In fact Adam as man is the one who names the woman—Eve. It is the same as what the man did to the animals. So the man has power over the woman.
8. Notice that in the text the woman is describes alone—and promoting a catastrophe. She is with the serpent. The man is not there.
9. So, in the garden already reigns evil! It reigns in the form of non-consideration towards the woman. The woman is treated secondarily—as “someone else” and marginal. The woman already is devalued, excluded from the center. We can view this as symbolic of all other forms of exclusion and marginalization—as we see in our world today.
1. Look at Wenin’s view and Basset’s view. Although they can have divergences, they still meet.
2. Now, are we scandalized? Remember what we said in our other theology classes—that the Bible is “word of God” written by authors “inspired” by God. Let us accept this—that the garden story is, indeed, word of God revealing in a very raw way evil. Simply because the Bible is “word of God” does not mean that authors are completely free from sin!
3. What about us, how do we read the garden story then? One element to consider is the distance between us and the Genesis author. So it will be important to see the author’s point of view. This is what the distance imposes. Let the text be “other-than-us”. Let it speak to us. Let it continue to have its “owness”.
4. This approach—or “hermeneutic”—allows us to take a distance from the male-dominant view of society and world. If we immediately accept that man is dominant over the woman, we pretend to lose the distance between us and the text. But no. Let us not be immediately absorbed by the text. Let us recognize our distance from the text…and let us allow the text to “talk” to us. Let us not immediately say that we know the text all at once and that the text justified the domination of man over woman.
Let us continue with our discussion on “solitude”.
1. It is not good to be alone. This is what we read in 2/18 which comes immediately after 2/16-17. Recall 2/16-17. There God shows that it the human does not accept limits, life will be put in peril. There is “death”. It is a different type of death.
2. It is curious that God is with the human yet God considers the human as being alone! God is so “debonnaire” he does not impose himself as company. God also admits that 2/16-17 needs an expression. It is not easy to see how 2/16-17 can be lived out if the human is alone. To get a good hold of one’s limits, it is wise to live with others. Even modern psychologists will say this: to know oneself is to relate with others.
3. If there is to be someone else to accompany the human, who could that be? A “suitable partner”? God tries the animals—and the human names them. None is a “suitable partner”. It looks like Gods “plan A” does not work. But then when we come to verse 24, the solitude ends and there is a “suitable partner”. The solution to solitude is not found in the animals but is someone else—a human partner.
4. What is this idea of “suitable partner”? It is an “ezer”—sometimes translated as “helper”. An ezer is someone who is “always there” even in times of danger and peril. An ezer is someone with a face. The presence of an ezer is a face-to-face presence. The ezer is someone to communicate with; someone who has thoughts and feelings to share too. The ezer can be confrontational, if the case be, precisely because the ezer has uniqueness, an “own” self…a face. You-are-not-me-and-I-am-not-you.
5. Animals cannot be ezer. They have no “face”. They have no “frontal” relationship. Well, God placed them there and they did not meet the requirements of being ezer. They cannot lift the human out of solitude.
6. What comes next in the story? God operates an anesthesia. The human is put to sleep….a “deep sleep”. This deep sleep is also mentioned in other parts of the Bible (see Gen.15/12; Jg.4/21; 1Sam.26/12…and the famous sleep of Jonas, 1/5.) In this sleep there is a total loss of awareness. One is brought to full ignorance about what is going on around. Note the word: ignorance!
7. During this deep sleep God takes a “rib”. Tradition translates it as rib….But more accurately it is “side” (cela). So the word can be used for many applications: it can be the other side of the tabernacle, the other side of the Temple, the other side of the mountain, etc. (See Ex25/12; 26/20; 1Kg6/5; Ez.41/5; 2Sam.16/13; 1Kg.6/34, etc.)
8. What happens actually is that two sides are now presented. God cuts the human in two. There is one side and there is another side. Now because of the deep sleep none of the sides know what is going on. Both sides are in full ignorance. There are two partners who are in full ignorance.
9. To have a side sliced means to have been wounded and to have a scar left. Symbolically this means that you and I start off with being wounded—with fragility and lack. None of the two are complete. So both complement each other. The relationship begins with partners who are limited—with lack. They are not fully integral. Here we echo 2/16-17….limit. “You may…but there is a limit”. In human relationship you may do anything BUT there is a limit: you are not the only person in this world. Live well in basic limitation.
10. The limit is not a hole—it is not vanity. It opens the door to “adventure”. Imagine: I know all, I am fully ok, so I need nothing else…I do not need to know more, see more, love more, enjoy more…I am already integral and full. To speak like this is to end all growth and adventure. It is to stop horizons.
11. Life has now a structure: two partners are limited and will have to adventure together. We supplement each other. The verses 2/16-17 will now be completed with verse 18. Well, 2/16-17 is about food—the fruits—and they symbolize the reality of human relationship. Can you see how? Maybe this will be a topic for the exam!
1. Adam—now as masculine/man—recognizes the company of someone else. The man says: she is bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh. (Flesh here is more of precariousness: see Is.40/6-7). This one is woman—isha (woman) from ish (man). Well, it seems that what the man says is obvious. But notice that something curious is happening.
2. Just imagine the scenario. After a deep sleep one wakes up to see someone else. This is the first time someone else is here. There is no exchange of words…no “hello”, no “who are you”…nothing. There is even no asking of question to God: “what happened?” There is even no taking to “you”. Look at the speech in verse 23. There is no “you”. Instead the speech is about “this one”. According to the man speaking in the speech the woman, isha, is from man, me’ish. This is the man’s interpretation. Actually the woman is not from the man me’ish.(Bible experts who know Hebrew will say that etymologically isha is from enosh and not from ish. Well, let us leave that to the experts to discuss.) The woman is from the integral adam—a side of adam. Both the man and the woman are from an integral whole adam. But the man designates the place of the woman—she has no “own self”. There is no idea of distance/gap between the two.
3. Now “she belongs to me”…she is “from man”. The woman is second to him. Consequently the man can assume that he already knows the woman. There is no need to go further and adventure.
4. The man speaks as if he is not in ignorance…as if he has no limits…as if he knew what exactly happened during the deep sleep. In fact he mentions no sleep. What is happening is that solitude is kept secured. Deleting the sleep the man speaks as if nothing escapes his knowledge….as if his awareness was never absent.
5. Recall the word “covet”. We said it is the absence of limits to desiring. Well, notice that in this story we see coveting clearly. There is the absence of distance…the absence of limits….I own the other, I fully own the other. The woman is not outside me.
6. Let us pause and recall the question of gender. Why is the man here still ha’adam? It is probably—as Wenin would say—a way of describing he behavior of the man as if he were still ha’adam. He is now ish but continues to pretend to be ha’adam, integral and complete—in solitude. What do you think?
Then one leaves parents to cling to wife
1. Verse 24 is curious. Why is it there? Remember what has just happened. The man is “full of himself”. So the author adds: “that is why”. The man is full of himself, that is why he leaves parents. He leaves the familiar world of home. He leaves “comfort zones” and has to enter into a long process of clinging to the wife…to affection…to love. It is a process of moving out of being too full of oneself. This process is a process of learning to move out of solitude. (For clinging to woman see: Dt.11/22; Jos22/5; it means clinging to affection, see Rt1/14; Pro18/24…it means clinging to love: Gen34/3; 1Kg11/2.
2. The two will be one body. Body here is flesh—basar. It is symbol of fragility and vulnerability (see Ps78/39; Is.40/6-7). So to share a body—one body—is to share vulnerability…assume limits, assume uniqueness. When we see this phrase “become one body” we come to an Old Testament topic of covenant. To share is to make a covenant possible. Yes, it is attachment but non-fusional. This is why we see the word “one”. They form “one” body—a sense of uniqueness. This uniqueness will be expressed in the presence of…a baby, again someone else.
Both were naked, yet felt no shame
1. Note the word “yet”. Both are naked. Well, up to this point the woman says nothing. She is reduced to silence. It is her way of responding to the behaviour of the man. Silence can mean many things—it is a sign of the woman’s own style of behaving. It is her refusal to be a face-to-face. It is her refusal to even confront the man. She allows subjugation to the man—she enters into the same logic of the man. If he is to be too full of himself, so too can she be full of herself…and she does it is silence.
2. In “theory” both are to be in one body…a unity of each other. But in reality, as verse 25 says, they are not united. They live as “both”…a relationship of fusion, indistinct, no separation, no “own selves”.
3. Note the absence of God. What we see here is the “both”. There is even no place for God here. Everyone—the man and the woman—forget the gift to each other. They are not face-to-face with each other…they are side-by-side. There is no recognition of the “own self” of the other…no sense of uniqueness of the other….
4. Later in the story we will read that both then realize they are naked. So right now, they are naked but they do not notice it…they are not face-to-face. The man thinks he’s got it all—he’s ok and no need to grow—and the woman accepts this…in silence and subjugation. Both accommodate each other’s way of thinking!
5. Does this look abstract? Let us put it is modern terms. We say “love is blind”—which is wrong. Well, it is what is happening in the story. Both man and woman love each other blindly. Hence they do not sense the nakedness of each other. Both do not perceive the uniqueness, the distinction and “owness” of each other.
6. Verse 25 tells us about the failure of being “suitable partners”. It is the failure of the face-to-face. It is the failure of addressing solitude. God’s project is rejected already. The human would rather refuse limits, refuse the justice of relationships and continue with the propensity to delete the uniqueness of each one.
The Snake is Cunning
1. The snake is cunning. The New American Bible’s footnote will indicate that there is a play of words between cunning and naked or nude. “Naked” in 2/25 and cunning here have the same: ‘arum. ‘arummi for cunning and ‘arummim for naked. So we can see the literary technique of the author. Also, remember that the snake is without hair or feather—hence “naked”.
2. Nakedness represents uniqueness…difference…. This is what I am and this sets a limit to you. That is who you are and that sets a limit to me. Nakedness puts into evidence our limits and differences. So technically when I enter into your nakedness I am encroaching on who you are. There are boundaries to recognize, as modern psychology tells us. If we do not notice this, we think that we are fused…one…united as if without differences and limits. We have crossed each other’s limits. We do not take notice of each other’s nakedness.
3. The man deleted the nakedness of the woman. He thought that he knew her completely—100%. The man believed that she was from him…he even took the authority to name her. The woman accepted this without a comment…without opposition…without confronting the man. She just absorbed everything. It was a total fusion of the two.
4. When we go to the story with the serpent, the roles reverse. It is suddenly the woman who deletes the man and the man who absorbs all. Let us see.
5. First, let us look at what the serpent has to say. Verse 3/1b says that the serpent asked the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” Well, yes, this is true in a way. Do not eat from all the trees…because one tree is prohibited. So you cannot eat from all. Yet, notice the way the serpent phrases the words. The serpent turns the ideas in such a way that a different understanding will take place…different from what God had in mind. Check it out.
2/16-17 (God’s command) 3/1 (Serpent’s rephrasing)
16: from all trees you will not eat
17: but not from one tree from all the trees
6. Notice that the serpent puts the prohibition of 2/17 as the starting point and associates it with all the trees. And the serpent makes it appear that it is God saying this inverse: “did God really say”. The woman, upon hearing this, is already influenced, although she tries to correct the snake. The snake is starting off with what is true…but is insinuating the false. He plants doubt into the woman.
7. The serpent focuses on the limit: you may not eat. That is the starting point, right? No, it is not about the gift of God to allow desire to be free and to allow the eating from trees… The snake is making the prohibited tree as the central interest…as if the prohibited tree will now “rule over” (or hide) the other trees. The gift of 2/16 is now set aside…the gift of God is set aside. God’s command is now made to appear legal…a law that prohibits. God is not interested in your blooming…God is interested in law…in legal matters…in prohibitions.
8. Recall that 2/16-17 is about limit that allows for relationship and blooming. Know your limit so you can adventure….bloom…explore your humanity. With the command of God there is the I-You. This is why when God gave the command he was addressing ha’adam as you…in a unique and personal way.
9. The serpent addresses the woman as you-plural. (Well, the English translation cannot show this because “you” in English can be singular and plural. Check out the translation in your language.) So it is now between God and man/woman (plural). The serpent is setting up a tension…a break…a gap between the couple and God. God will be put in opposition to the couple.
10. The notion of limit changes. It is not anymore the limit that opens up to relationship. It is now the limit that becomes source of frustration. God is someone who imposes a command, a prohibition. God is obsessed with prohibition this is his way of relating.
11. Notice that the snake does not call God “Lord-God” (adonai-elohim). It is just “God-divinity” (elohim). The New American Bible translation is clear on this.
The Woman and the Snake
Keep in mind that the Genesis stories of Creation,
especially the garden story, are insights on the human condition
1. Remember the first words of the snake—or serpent? An effect of his words is a re-focus on the meaning of the command of God—in 2/16-17. That command was a gift—a gift to shape life and allow life to bloom constantly. The serpent twists this. He makes the command look like a “legal” statement…a kind of “rule” or “regulation”. An image of God is thus presented. Can you notice this image?
2. The serpent is then sowing doubt on the mind of the woman. What kind of a God is this….a God obsessed with rules? Remember that the limit given by 2/17 is designed for shaping life. By recognizing limit the human does not abuse actions…the human does not over-do desires. Desires are structured and organized to avoid coveting. Remember the meaning of “coveting”? The serpent makes it look like the limit set by God is a rule—an obligation that is “legal”…a “should”. God looks like a lawyer, a severe judge, a policeman. Is this not the kind of image Job has of God?
3. Furthermore, the serpent makes it look like there is now an opposition between the human—the couple—and God. God has always been the Lord God—Yahweh Elohim. But the serpent emphasizes the Elohim and drops the “Lord” part.
4. Twisting the sense of 2/16-17, the serpent makes it look like it is ok to covet. The limit set by God is negative—it is not meant for a happy life. So do not take the limit seriously. Covet…it is ok. With this kind of presentation, confusion is possible. Why? Well God—the Lord God—is nice and debonnaire. But now this God can be doubted. Is he really interested in my happiness or is he interested in making sure his rule is followed? Could it be that the limit he sets is a direct confrontation to my desires? God is prohibiting me to desire…to do what I want? The serpent looks convincing. The “nice” image of God is now distorted.
5. The woman responds. Look at how she responds. First, she calls God simply “elohim”. She too drops the “Lord” part. She may appear to be correcting the snake but she seems to take the line of the snake already. Notice how verse 3/2 is phrased. She talks of something like a “law” and the word of God under it is absent. She drops it. She is doing what the serpent wants….slowly.
6. Well, the woman talks about the prohibited tree. Where does she put it? Now she inverts the places of the trees. The tree of life is not central…it is the regulation-tree. For her she has come to make the “rule-regulation-law” middle…central.
7. Then she adds to the prohibition…by talking of “touching”. The Lord God never spoke of that…but the woman adds it. She must be so attracted to the tree. Remember that when we eat something—say, a fruit—we touch it first. The “pull” of the tree and its fruits has already affected the thinking of the woman…to the point that touching has become prohibitive. Well, of course, touching a fruit is the closest step next to eating it.
8. The woman herself is already distorting the command of God. Verse 3 notes: “or else”. Now the command of God is not anymore a gift for living properly. It is a “hard law” with a threat…follow it “or else”. The threat is not about life….but about following the law! This is now the working of the mind of the woman. Follow the rule “or else”….
9. Remember…and keep in mind…that the command of 2/16-17 (plus 18) is really designed for the happiness of life. But now in the woman’s mind, the issue is not anymore about life but about the command as a rule…an obligation…a legal thing. Suddenly the priority is about “rule” and not about life. (Just think about this…is this not also how the idea of “obedience” misunderstood among many religious people? Obedience looks like it is about rules…. But think deeply, obedience is about life!).
10. What is the image about God at this point? He is made to look like a severe judge. He is a threatening God with a kind of “or else” threat. God is a fearful, scary God. God slowly looks like an opponent—yes, an opponent to human happiness.
11. The serpent tries to make the woman feel re-assured. It’s cool. It’s ok, do not worry woman. The serpent retakes the command of God about the peril to life if the human forgets limits. The serpent is now showing that it is nonsense to take the limit seriously. “You will not die”…take it easy. That is a rule made by God with the threat of death. But no! The serpent re-assures the woman, “You will not die.
12. Notice that the serpent is now taking a clear stand….God said….now he is a liar, yes, God is liar! “You will not die”….It is not true that you will die….God is lying. Notice how the serpent presents God as lying: “God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.” So God knows something and God is not saying it….God is keeping that knowledge and is telling something else to the human…. God is lying.
13. At this point the woman looks very “ripe” for accepting the snake’s line. The serpent now has the courage to take a definite stand. Earlier the serpent has been “feeling” the woman…trying to sow doubt and confusion. Now that the woman is at a loss and has a distorted view of God, the serpent makes a stand….a position. The serpent is clearly saying that God is lying and selfish in sharing knowledge.
14. The human is a competitor to God. God is hiding a secret and is lying. God is preserving a status—God wants to stay superior and privileged. The human might have access to God’s knowledge and God does not want this. So God wants to preserve a distance between the human and God so that God will keep his superior status. If the human has access to God’s knowledge, the human will also be thinking with superiority—just like the gods. God does not like this. God is threatened by the competition. This is why God gives the command! God is interested in rules and in keeping his status.
15. So what is the serpent telling about the desire of God? God covets his own superiority! Pause for a while and consider hos, culturally, we might be following the same line of thinking. God is so “up there” in competition with us….
16. The serpent looks like he is so “friendly” and “fraternal”. He looks so concerned with the situation of the woman. God now looks unfriendly. In fact the serpent appears to be like God—to have the same status as that of God. Well, note that the serpent tells the woman that he knows the secret of God. The serpent presents himself as a nice God, unlike the Lord God.
17. Now the woman must make a stand. Is she to believe in the serpent? Later she will discover that, indeed, the serpent is a liar (see 3/13). But at this moment of the story she seems “sold” to the serpent’s ideas. The serpent makes more sense than God.
18. Imagine, the serpent is saying “your eyes will open…you will know…you will be just like the gods”. Is that not fantastic? Is that not appetizing? Do we not crave for that? Is it not coveting? Ah, God is lying. God is abusing me. God has put that command, 2/16-17, to prohibit me from enjoying life. God requires my compliance…so that he will stay in the superior status! Aha….but the serpent says my eyes will open…I will be like the gods! Is this not appetizing?
19. The woman can play this line…and drop the command of God. Just think….why do we struggle with God? Sometimes we might even hate God and think that God is, indeed, a policeman who is limiting our joy and happiness. (Then, we move to criticize the essential status of the Church and we think the Church is like God….obsessed with rules and superior status). The serpent is very smart!
20. We know the story…the woman eats a fruit.
Sarah who becomes a woman
1. There was a famine in Canaan when Abram and his family arrived. So he was obliged to go to Egypt where there was better chance to live. There was a problem, however. Abram was afraid that the Egyptians Pharaoh might abuse his wife in particular—she was very beautiful. Well, actually Abram was afraid that if the Egyptians find out that Sarai was his wife, they might kill him to get her. So as Abram and Sarai entered Egypt, Abram told his wife to pretend being his sister. See Gen.12/10-13.
2. Sarai was actually the wife of Abram: “…the name of Abram's wife was Sarai…Sarai was barren; she had no child” (Ge 11/29-30).
3. The sterility of Sarai could not make her give birth—she was not in the position to beget humans. The whole genealogy to Abram was filled with women who could give birth. When it was Sarai’s time, the movement of child-bearing stopped. The genealogy was threatened. Not being able to be a mother, Sarai was a particular case. Many years after—and some chapters after chapter 12 of Genesis—Sarai who will be later called Sarah will have given birth to a son. She will receive from God and from Abraham. That would be about twenty years—yes twenty years—later. Right now, while in Egypt, Sarai was still sterile.
4. We know the story. Abram was called to leave his homeland to go to Canaan. A famine in Canaan forced Abram to go to Egypt. The fear of being killed because of Sarai dominated the mind of Abram. The strategy of Abram was to tell a lie.
5. We see how Abram put himself in the centre of his concern. He was afraid for his own life. He did not know the Egyptians yet—but already he has a prejudgement that they were dangerous rivals.
6. Fear and craving spoke in the heart of Abraham. What would happen if the Egyptians kill him to get his wife?
7. Sarai accepted the strategy of Abram. Sarai was also led by the fear of Abraham. She too was absorbed by the well-being of her husband. She was willing to give all—yes, “all for him”. She was willing to sacrifice. What was the consequence?
8. The Egyptians saw her beauty and she ended in an Egyptian harem. It was a royal harem—the harem of the Pharaoh. Meanwhile, Abram stayed alive and received a lot of wealth.
9. We know the story. The Pharaoh was stuck by plague. He found out who really was Sarai. Abram, who earlier was given the promise to be a blessing for all humanity had become a curse for the Pharaoh.
10. We know the story, finally Sarai was freed and given back to Abram. They again went back to Canaan.
11. Let us move a bit further. Sarai, wife of Abram, could not give him a child. But she had a “domestic helper” named Hagar, an Egyptian woman. Sarai told Abram to “sleep” with Hagar and have a child through her. Abram obeyed Sarai. (see Gen 16/1-3). Abram seemed to be taking his wife lightly. But Sarai herself was not exactly a serious woman either. She knew that Abram was given the promise of descendants—but up until now she was sterile. She even concluded that God was the cause of her sterility: “…The LORD has kept me from bearing children” (Gen. 16/2). She did not ask God to find a solution, Instead, she took it upon herself to find a solution by giving Hagar to Abram. Sarai can then adopt the child and make him her own. This strategy was to make Sarai a mother. She was to make herself a mother.
12. Abram took all this with approval without saying a word. He did not resist the will of his wife. He was willing to give in to the “short time” desire of his wife.
13. The situation would, however, turn sour. Sarai just could not tolerate the presence of Hagar. Ever since Hagar was pregnant, she looked at Sarai with disdain (see Gen.16/4-5). Sarai felt humiliated—and she took the humiliation against Abram. It became the fault of Abram: “Sarai said to Abram: "You are responsible for this outrage against me” (Gen.16/5).
14. Well, maybe Sarai was also correct in her accusation. Abram never resisted her lame strategy. He never dared oppose her.
15. Sarai wanted to make herself wife and mother—a woman—by making use of her husband, her, domestic and the coming child. Sarai was to satisfy her desires through this strategy. It was all pure “impulsive”.
16. Do we really help someone by simply giving in to her impulses? Do we really help her or do we only harm her all the more? At this point, God had to come in the picture.
17. Abram, at this time, was 99 years of age. God appeared to him and said: “"I am God the Almighty. Walk in my presence and be blameless…and this is my covenant with you and your descendants after you that you must keep: every male among you shall be circumcised. Circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and that shall be the mark of the covenant between you and me…. Between you and me I will establish my covenant, and I will multiply you exceedingly." (Gen 17/1-2 and 10-11). As if he was addressing Sarai, he was talking to Abram. God proposed a covenant—a pact—marked by circumcision.
18. What is a circumcision? It is a mark—a loss of skin. It is a mark on that specific organ of the male where the male might think he lacks nothing—he’s “got it all in there”. Once that skin is taken away, it’s gone. A permanent mark is there. The lost skin cannot be replaced. The exposed part can only be covered by another flesh---that of the flesh of a woman in an act that is designed with fertility and multiplication.
19. To be circumcised is to say “yes” to a loss on that part of the body—that part where the man is in his “utmost best”, so to speak. Accept the circumcision is, for Abram, is to enter into another unique relationship.
20. Saying “yes” to the covenant with God, Abram became Abraham. It was a name of a new type of fertility: “Father of the nations”. Sarai was to become Sarah—“princess”—and Abraham was to adjust his relationship with her. How was this adjustment?
21. Because Abraham accepted the circumcision—the loss of skin—his relationship was to grow and be fruitful. Sarah was going to have a child! This was to be Isaac.
22. The birth of Isaac was to crown the development of a relationship that was badly started. The sterility of Sarai in the past was a cause of problems. It was seen as a curse. But now it was transformed to opportunity—and it was to become fruitful for Abraham and Sarah.
23. Is this the end of a happy story? No.
24. Isaac grew up. Abraham was feasting over the fact that now he had a son—from his own seed. Sarah could see the child of Hagar. That child was from Abraham too. Sarah notice that Isaac and the child of Hagar were playing. What did Sarah do, how did she respond? “She demanded of Abraham: ‘Drive out that slave and her son! No son of that slave is going to share the inheritance with my son Isaac!” (Gen 21/10).
25. Jealousy filled the heart of Sarah. She saw Ismael having fun with Isaac! The name of Isaac had something to do with fun too—it was about laughing. How can the child of this slave share the identity and inheritance of Isaac, my son?
26. It was against the will of Abraham that Sarah wanted Hagar and child to leave. Sarah spoke with jealousy—she was a tough woman. Yet…this would be her last words. We will not hear from her again.
27. Sarah was a woman who struggled against obscurity to enter into a relationship of fruitfulness. This was her greatness…although not without ruin too. But who can hold it against her?
Moses: Familiar Problems
1. Read Nm 20/1. The chapter starts with a strange phrase “in the first month”. What is this? The Hebrews have been wandering for years…now what is this strange month? We are not so sure, really. But take a look at Nm 14/32-34. Here we read about 4o years and the displeasure of the Lord God. Those who could not believe in the Lord God would march for 40 years in the desert…and there die! See Nm 33/38. Let us quote it: “And Aaron the priest went up Mount Horeb at the command of the LORD, and died there, in the fortieth year after the people of Israel had come out of the land of Egypt, on the first day of the fifth month.” This verse seems to say that the 40 years marching have come to an end and they are now on the 1st day of the 5th month of that 40th year. So Nm.20/1 might suggest that the Hebrews are in the first month of their 40th year of walking. Confused? Well, no need to consult a calculator. Just agree—it is the first month of the 40th year, ok? Let this be our basis.
2. In Nm.20/1 we also read that Miriam died. She is the sister of Moses—and she is older. Why older? Well, she was there at the river Nile when Moses was in the basket, remember? (See Ex2/1-4). Probably Miriam was once of those sentenced to death after 40 years! Miriam was an important lady in the “administration” of the Hebrew people. For Moses, she may have been his sister but also a “minister” of the “government”.
3. Go to Nm 20/2-5. This is a new generation of Hebrews. What faith do these people have? Have the l;ast 40 years been effective to purify the Hebrew nation? How are the Hebrew people at this point? This new generation prefers to die with the older generations! Now, what do you say to that? Notice that they even look back to Egypt. What is so important with Egypt? Why return to Egypt? It is the same cry of their elder generations.
4. Read Nm 20/6-8. Here we find the famous command about the rod and the water. Moses and Aaron turn to God, and the Lord God gives Moses a command. Well, at least they do not shout and complain. That makes the different from the people. Yet, notice something in them.
5. Look at the command of the Lord God. What exactly must Moses do? What is your impression about it? See if you can determine what exactly is the Lord God telling Moses to do. See Ex.17/1-6. Notice how similar and also how different the story in Exodus is from the story here in Numbers.
6. Go back to Gen 1/3 and Ex 17/5-6. What do you notice in these verses? Moses has something to do which is parallel with the act of Creation. Wow! How did God create? What did God need to do for the world to come to existence? Aha…so what is given to Moses here in this command? Think well, it is curiously interesting.
7. Look at Nm 20/8. Why must Moses take his rod? What is the point of taking the rod?.
8. Read Nm 20/9-11. Funny eh? First of all, something is strange in the way Moses speaks to the people. Read well. Read it well. What do you notice? What is Moses emphasizing? Ok, maybe the people can be called “rebels”. There was a time when the people were rebels too, right? God was angry, so frustrated. What did Moses do? See Ex.32/11-14. But now, how is Moses? What has become of him?
9. Continue observing the declaration of Moses. The second part of his statement looks strange. Can you notice it? What is Moses trying to prove?
10. Now look at what Moses has done to the rock. He hits it. He even hits it twice. Aha! What can you say about it? Is he doing the right thing? Still, water comes out! God allows water to flow out. Moses did not exactly follow the command? How does God treat Moses here?
11. Read Nm 20/12. This is a painful statement from God. So what is the mistake of Moses—and Aaron? God said, “You did not believe in me”. What can you say about it? What might the Lord God be referring to here? (Hint: Look at the “power” God has given Moses. What an honor to Moses!)So, can you see the error of Moses? Think well, and it might make you recall Adam and Eve!
12. Look at the punishment. No entrance into the land of promise. Harsh? (Does it not remind you of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden?) Put yourself in the place of Moses. But take the side of God. What would you say to Moses? See it in terms of confidence in Make a dramatic conversation.
Moses: Lord God, my sister just died. She is my sister and…well, she is important for the administration of the nation.
God: Ok. I see that.
Moses: And look at these people. They are so hard headed. When will they learn? Their older generations have finished 40years wandering. Have they not seen the whole lesson? This is a tough job.
God: Ok, I see that too.
Moses: So, I hit the rock. And I hit it twice. It is a small mistake, Oh Lord. Why make a big fuss out of it? Why refuse me entrance to the promised land?
13. Now you try to see what God would say. (Recall the expulsion from Eden…why did God expel Adam and Eve? Focus Moses’ lack of confidence). Put yourself in the position of God. What would you say to Moses? Mettez-vous à la place de Dieu. Try to tell Moses directly what exactly is his fault.
The End of Aaron
14. Read Nm 20/23-29. The sister of Moses has just died and four months after his brother Aaron (see Exodus 6/20) dies (see Nm 33/38). How would Moses feel? What will he think of God? His own death is about to arrive. How would Moses see his own death?
15. Moses strips Aaron of his garments and puts them on Eleazar. There is a symbolic gesture of passing authority. Aaron is about to die because of the error of Moses. So you can imagine the emotions going on at this point. What about how would he be feeling at this moment? He might be seeing hias life pass through—and he can evaluate that. What would he say? Just think about someone having done a big fault in life and is about to die. The error is in front of his/her eyes.
16. Read Nm 21/4-6. Aaron is dead by now. Yet look at the way people continue to behave. Might they have realized that all their complaining had effects on people?
17. Go to Nm 21/7-9. Remember the serpents. Now what do you think. Why is the Lord God asking Moses to make a ze bronserpent figure? It is a figure which will save those who look at it. And yet, if you go to 2Kg.18/3-5, what do you notice? Ezekias destroys the serpent made by Moses. T hen in the New Testament we read that Jesus is like the serpent (see Jn 3/14-15). What a mess of images. So confusing! See if this can help: The serpent represents sin. The people have killed Jesus. So the first stage of reconciliation is to recognize sin. Admit there is sin and there is the ne3ed for grace. So looking at the serpent is an admission of sin. As for the story of Ezekias, the peole have turned the serpent into an object of adoration. This can mean that we need to face the fact of our sins and admit we sin. But there is a point when we might even start adoring it. “Wow, sin, alleluia”. Is it not true that there are times when we might even pride in our sins? So, finally, sin has to be abandoned rather than allow it to govern us.
What about us?
18. We go through hard times too. We even like to complain, right? What do we do with our complaining? How do we use it? This is an interesting theme because complaining has its use too. We do not just complain simply for the sake of complaining. We hope for results in our complaining. This is what has happened to the Hebrew people—and Moses too. Do you recall any moment in life when you had a bad use of complaining—it only made situations more stressful? The history of the Hebrew people has been marked by complaining. What did it do to them? What can we do with our complaining? What would the story of Moses and Aaron, giving water to the people, teach us?
On A reflection on Idolatry
Review Genesis One…then study this
In the Exodus story
1. As we see, this is a big issue in the Bible. We read: Aaron “...received their offering, and fashioning it with a tool, made a molten calf. Then they cried out, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt’” (Ex32/4). Aaron, not THE LORD GOD, is leading. Take note of the condition of the people at this point. Moses is up the mountain. The people do not see Moses nor anything about THE LORD GOD. This might tell us why Aaron proposes a golden calf. So we read: “The time the Israelites had stayed in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years” (Ex.12/40). Look at that length of time. In Ezekiel we read a record of how the Hebrew people behaved even in the time of Ezekiel himself: “…they rebelled and refused to listen to me; none of them threw away the detestable things that held their eyes, nor did they abandon the idols of Egypt” (Ez. 20/8). In Ezekiel we read about the Hebrews long after the Exodus event, yet they continue something. If this is the case long after the Exodus, how much stronger would the cultural pattern be at the time of the Exodus! So, just imagine being in the desert. It is not easy to live in the desert—it is harsh living. Then living with many influences of other religions…this too has an effect on the Hebrews.
2. Calf—well, it is said to be a Baal symbol. Archaeologists would note that in Baalism, there is a strong use of the figure of calf. It gives an idea of fertility and milk, sustenance. Look also at the fact that the figure is a calf—a young bull. It must a strong and still full of power. Let us not worry too much about this now. We will discuss this more later in Idolatry Part 2. Just now, let us ask: why make an idol, a figure now in this moment of staying in the desert and being at the foot of the mountain?
3. “Aaron replied, ‘Take off the golden earrings that your wives, your sons, and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me’. So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He received their offering, and fashioning it with a tool, made a molten calf” (Ex.32/2). Notice how the calf is made. Notice that the people up of something. What people give up are not just ordinary objects. So the “sacrifice” must also have deep meaning. To make the metal-gold calf also means a lot for the people. But is it acceptable to THE LORD GOD?
4. Let us pursue the reason why people make their idol: “…the LORD, your God, is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Dt.4/24). What is the characteristic of the Lord God here? Because of this characteristic, people have to mask God. People have to make some form to “hide” God’s face.
5. “But you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live” (Ex.33/20). Notice that God has become so overwhelming, it has become necessary even for God to keep that overwhelming feature. Why? The reason may be is that the human being is capable of doing something—and so God would like to withdraw in distance. What could the human be possibly doing at this point? (See if Jer.18 can help: the potter and the pot. Who is potter and who is pot?) With the human, a reversal might happen. So God avoids the reversal. This explains the “hiding” of God.
6. After making the golden calf, an altar is built. Altar symbolizes mediation—the “in between”. It is between “up” and “down”, between the “sacred” and the “profane”, between the “worldly” and the “divine”. “On seeing this, Aaron built an altar in front of the calf and proclaimed, ‘Tomorrow is a feast of the LORD’. Early the next day the people sacrificed burnt offerings and brought communion sacrifices. Then they sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel” (Ex.32/5-6). Something is happening; now God gets angry. What does God have against altar-mediation related to the golden calf?
7. Idolatry can be about believing in other gods. Other gods cannot do what THE LORD GOD can do. See 1Kg18/18-40. See Is48/5 Is45/20….See Is45/21. But idolatry can even apply to THE LORD GOD himself! See Ex.32/4-8. This golden calf is not about another god. It is also about THE LORD GOD. It is wrong too. It is as futile as having others gods and images of other gods. Why? (Hint: idolatry is linked with justice-injustice). THE LORD GOD does not like idolatry also because it promotes injustice. See Jer.22/16 and Jer.9/23.
In relation to Genesis One
8. To listen to the beast rather than to the human person—this is another form of idolatry! Look at how the Bible shows idolatry. It is always in the form of the beasts! (see 1 KG 12/28 ; 2 KG18/4 ; Ps 106/19 ; Ws 12/24 ; in the New testament see Rm 1/23).
9. Now we can better appreciate why God forbids using figures “in the heavens and on the earth” (see Ex 20/4 ; Dt 5/8).
10. Go back to Genesis and notice that the human is to have mastery over beasts (Gn 1/8-10/20-21 and 24-25). Remember the Exodus story of the “golden calf”? The Israelites even proclaimed the calf as God! Aaron proclaimed: “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” (Ex 32/4).
11. Now think about it. Aaron says “liberation”—out of Egypt. Why?
12. The beast represents force, power! As a calf it is young—still full of power. But it is also a force that can kill—the calf, which is a bull, can go wild and aggressive. It can be uncontrolled. It can kill with its horns.
13. Think again. When God liberated the people from Egypt, the people of Israel saw what happened. They saw the power and force of God. This force allowed life to the people while the Egyptians on chariots pursued to destroy them. God did not impose. He liberated…but the Egyptians refused it. Notice that right after crossing the sea, God told the people to turn back and camp beside the sea. God was gentle even during that time.
14. With the golden calf, the Israelites kept memory of the power of God that crushed the Egyptians—a power that gave life to one and killed the other. It reduced the power of God to pure force.
15. By bowing before the golden calf, Israel turns back to Egypt! One bows to the power of the Pharaoh who wants to kill the Hebrews. The Lord God is like the Pharaoh—a Pharaoh in reverse. This time it is a Pharaoh in favour of Israel and enemy of Egypt. This is the big problem You are free, liberated—do not return to the beastly condition of crushing others too, just like your former oppressors. Avoid the perversion of idolatry.
16. Idolatry is a way of making God a beast—making God connect with our own brute elements. It is making God in the image of the beast in us.
17. Notice that before making the golden calf, the Israelites were lost in the desert. Then, Moses went up and also “got lost” in the mountain of Sinai. Israel thus hoped for a renewal of power that can re-assure them. They wanted to avoid the risk of a mysterious God. They wanted security that can kill and overpower.
18. The human, by bowing before the idol-beast, thinks that the adoration is to God…but actually to one’s own beast inside. The human gives God an image from the human, made by human imagination…from the beast within. What characterizes the beast is what is in the human—the traits proper to the human—with the risk of choosing the traits that destroy and kill. It is not the revealed traits of God.
19. The golden calf has horns. It is a speciality found in the human too—we have horns. We can have mastery quickly with precision and with technique—like having horns. We need to “master” this mastery. Why not? But make sure we do not bow to it. If we invest our forces on our horns, what damage we can do!
20. The human is image of God. We too are in the likeness of God. We are in the process of living up to this. We are “male-female” but also “man-woman”—persons. The adoration of the golden calf is really a self-adoration. We must cross the trial of the beastly in us. So we see the connection between Adam, Creation story, and idolatry? The encounter with the beast allows us to discover how close we are with that creature. But we have speech, we speak, we have language. We are also persons. Master over the beastly—kindly, gently—and do not obey totally the beastly. To fall for the beast is to fall for idolatry.
1. In 1Sam8/19 we read the refusal of the Israel people to listen to Samuel. Samuel warned them about having a king. The people replied: “No, there must be a King to lead us”. So let there be a king. One king was David. Was he not the leader…as he always was? Let us check him out. Read 2Sam11.
2. Look at 2Sam.11/1. What do you notice that David is doing? What is happening to Israel and where is David? See verse 2 and notice how “nice” his condition is...while the army is doing what?
3. What do we read? Bathsheba is bathing at the time “towards evening” (v.2). What kind of bathing is that? See Lev15/19 and 28. So what exactly is she doing?
4. David by chance sees Bathsheba. What is he suppose to do? See if Gen.24/64-65 can help. Read Job 31/1. Imagine David up there and Bathsheba down below. Had Bathsheba known that someone--a man--is staring at her, what must she do? What about David, what must he do?
5. Bathsheba--the name means “daughter of the oath”. Sometimes it can mean “daughter of wealth”. What kind of a woman is she? She is the daughter of Eliam, one of David’s “30 men” who are in-charge of the army. Eliam, her father, is son of one of David’s most trusted advisers named Ahithopel. Who is this Ahithopel? He is from a city of Judah... So? From Judah would mean from the same line of David! Bathsheba was from the same tribe of David and the granddaughter of one of his most trusted friends. In case you want to check: 2Sam.23/34; Jos.15/51 and 2Sam.15/12. (This explains also why her residence is not far from that of David).
6. Who is the husband of Bathsheba? His name is Uriah and he is a foreigner--a Hittite--resident in Israel and fighting for the army of David. At the time of David there were foreigners who accepted the faith in the Lord God--Uriah must have been one of them. Uriah, in fact is a name that means “the Lord God is my light”. Uriah is one of the “best” of warriors, one of the “30”. See 2Sam23/39. (See 2Sam.15/12).
7. David asks about Bathsheba. Notice the reply given to him, indicating exactly her status with a reputation. Now “lust” awakens in David. King David, the great military man, will now be “military” again but in a different way--since he is not at war.
8. Notice the verbs attached to David: He saw...he inquired...he sent...he took her. The story seems to go very fast, very very fast, like in a rush. Is this not what “lust” can do to someone?
9. Now, what does Bathsheba do? We read that “she came to him” (v.4). What does this tell you? Maybe 2Sam. 11/7 can help. Uriah also “came” to him. So the “she came” and “Uriah cam” have something in common. What do you think?
10. As we shall see later, Uriah “came” but he does not follow David—he is in war, and while in war he has to be “strong”! He should not let his knees bend during fights. This disobedience of Uriah, however, would cost him his life.
11. Let us go back to David and Bathsheba. What does David do to her? See v.4. (Notice we are still in the same verses…the story is fast). The verb “took” (laqua) is strong. It implies that the one taking has a responsibility in doing it. Of course the messengers bring Bathsheba to David. This is an act of power. He sends people. But face-to-face with David, Bathsheba is all alone. David “lays with her”. In the New American Bible there is a descriptive account. The verb “lay” is also strong. See Dt. 22/25-27. Remember that Bathsheba had just purified herself--she just had her ritual bath. So this act of David involves a violation.
12. David—who is he? A man for the little ones. A man in the heart of God, his compassion is very much like God’s compassion. What is he doing now to this woman?
13. What does Bathsheba do after the “act”? Does she stay in the palace? She stays at home. She returns to her house!
14. Notice now she does the same thing David just did! David sent for her--called her in. Now she sends him a message. David had done an act of power--getting her, having her taken to him. Now, she is not returning the same gesture. She acts on her own style. What does this tell you? What does it say about Bathsheba at this point of the story? What is her message? “I am pregnant”. How would this strike David?
15. David, is he ok? How does he respond? Who does he think of next? Notice the verb: to send. He sends for whom? It is the same action he has done earlier with Bathsheba. So, clearly David is somehow “numb” to his situation.
16. Let us note Bathsheba after she hears of her husband’s death. See verses 26-27. She “mourned”. The verb is sapad. The mourning of Bathsheba is hysterical! It is not just a crying. Bathsheba is experiencing a very heavy loss. Notice she mourns (sapad).
17. What does David do after? He stays numb!
18. Nathan’s story tells us about the victim. Who is the victim? Why would this person be victim? What kind of a victim is the person that would make YHWH angry? What exactly did David do?
The “Fall” of David
1. David was from the tribe of Judah. He was son of Jesse…descendant of Ruth and Boaz (see Ruth 4/18-22). The fact that Ruth was an ancestor means a lot—theologically.
2. David became part of the King’s court—the King then was Saul—and he played the harp to Saul who had difficulties with sleep. David also fought Goliath…a story we all know. David was a valiant warrior, and his battles made him win all the time. Saul became jealous because of this (see 1Sam.18/6-16). Slowly a kind of friction developed—as Saul became more and more jealous. David married a daughter of Saul named Michal. He became a very intimate friend of Jonathan, a son of Saul. So we see how close David must have been with the family of Saul. Both Michal and Jonathan tried to arrange the friction between the King and David, but the King Saul was really hard headed.
3. David then ran away—fled—from the threat of Saul. He took with him some soldiers and they became part of the army of the Philistines. David, however, avoided situations that would make him go to war against his own people.
4. When Saul and Jonathan died, David went to Hebron and there was anointed King of Judah (see 2Sam.2/4). Now, there were people from the north who remained faithful to Saul and they resisted David. They got into battles with David. Somewhere along the way, someone from the north named Abner (research this in your private time) negotiated with David and thus went against the northern group. The agreements did not fully materialize because within the faction of Abner there were conflicts—which later led to the death of Abner.
5. To cut the story short, there came a point when everyone accepted David as their King. Elders came to Hebron and expressed their agreement to the rule of David.
6. David went to Jerusalem and made it the central city. There we built his own palace. He got rid of the Philistines. With Jerusalem as center David unified the different groups and tribes of the whole people. Then David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem—this making the city also the religious center. David wanted to build a Temple for the Lord God but he was advised by the prophet Nathan not to do it. But because of his desire to have a home built for the Lord, he was given the promise that his family—the Davidic line—with be permanent and from that family will rise the true liberator (see 2Sam7).
7. During that time the big empires of the region weakened. David took this chance to strengthen his own powers and imposed his authority over the neighboring nations
8. Then came the Bathsheba story. From hereon David himself weakened. In his own family his sons—who had different mothers—got into conflict with each other…conflict of jealousy. See the whole chunk of chapters 2Sam9-20. One son, Absalom, tried to get the throne of David. (You might want to read about Absalom and his half brother, Amnon and his full sister Taman in 2Sam.13.) Absalom went on reviolt against David. In fact the revolt seemed to be so successful that David fled Jerusalem. Absalom however was later killed—and David returned to Jerusalem and wept bitterly for his dead son.
9. Later David had to face another revolt, this time by Sheba from the tribe of Benjamin. Sheba wanted to restore the tradition of Saul. In fact there seemed to be no end to rivalries against David—all the way to the time he was about to die.
10. David named his successor—Solomon. Solomon was the fruit of the union between David and Bathsheba. Is this not such a striking story? While rivalries and conflicts continued, Solomon took the support of many important persons to strengthen his rule.
11. Notice then the “rise” and “weakening” of David. The hinge is the Bathsheba story! That was the turning point. One thing credited to David is this—he stayed faithful to the Lord God. Yes, he sinned in the Bathsheba story…and remember that Uriah got killed because of David’s strategy to hide his action on Bathsheba. But David repented…he said sorry. He never let go of his fidelity to God. We understand why David has become “a man of God’s heart” (see Act.13/22).
God displeased with what David did
A short point to look at: The text was written after the
Exile. So surely the text was marked by
The experiences of that time.
1. Many commentators do not see David having violated Bathsheba. But one, Andre Wenin, sees the case as a rape case. At any case, there was a clear violation of the rule—Law. See for example Ex.20/14 and 17. David took Bathsheba who was already married. Adultery was punishable by stoning—applied to the man (and the woman). (See Lev 20/10; Dt 22/22-24).
2. Bathsheba became pregnant and David did a strategy to free himself from the responsibility. This went as far as getting Uriah killed. We know the story. How did God react? We see this in Nathan, the prophet.
3. After the parable of Nathan David declared that the man who did wrong (the rich man in the parable) deserved death. David was in denial about himself. He could not see himself as having done anything wrong. His heart was cold—a stone. But Nathan confirmed that David was the man who did wrong.
4. Notice the accusation given by Nathan. See 2Sam.12/7-9. Notice how very close it is to Gen.2/16-17. Can you see it? You may…but what did you do…you overstepped the limit…..
5. David despised the Lord and consequently did evil. In the original we read: “you despised the word of the Lord God”. God knows and his word is really worth trust and confidence. (Remember what we said about the tourist who wanted to eat a fruit from a tree he was not familiar with? He had to “take word of the local resident” because the local resident knew about the tree and its fruit.)
6. What would be the penalty for this fault? The NAB would put it this way: “Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house”. David will live always with the sword—never will there be peace in his household. And truly, it was to happen after this event. The unfortunate will become part of David’s life—and the life of the nation. Kings after David will be headaches for the nation…while people will live in injustice.
7. Symbolically therefore the adultery of David was to be the cause of the nation’s struggles later on. David’s fault had major consequences. The author of this text may have been seeing in the deep pains of the people and the nation the crime of David. David’s sin was symbolic of all—for all have had the same heart of dirt and stone.
8. What David did in secret would no longer be a hidden case. The nation will now be doing crazy things in broad daylight.
9. David now admitted his fault. The penalty of death was not applied to him but to his son … Absalom. Notice the story of Absalom. David cried…mourned…over the death of Absalom. Now, David took what was not his own, namely Bathsheba, in adultery. Later David will lose his own from the acts of his son Absalom. What did Absalom do? He had sexual relations with David’s own wives. It was not in secret…everyone knew about it! Then he was to lose Absalom too.
10. Absalom revolted against David. So it was true—the sword never would leave the Davidic household. Although there was to be war with other nations, inside the household would always be fighting with the sword.
11. Eventually God will turn sweet toward Solomon. In Solomon the household will experience greatness and wisdom and the other nations will be impressed. This is for another discussion.
The Naboth Story in 1Kg 21/1-29
Introduction to the Naboth story
1. Is5/1-7…about a vineyard….about the vineyard with lousy fruits….and so, let the people judge themselves. See yourselves as bitter fruits!
2. So vine is an important OT image. See Noah: After the flood he plants a vineyard…drinks from it and gets drunk. Gen9/20-12.
3. The Hebrews, upon arriving in Canaan, see a vineyard. Nb13/23
4. Hosea clearly sees in vineyard the relationship between YHWH and people: Hos 10/1.
5. Jeremiah also sees vineyard this way. Jer.2/21. In fact empires have come to damage the vineyards Jer.12/10.
6. Psalms see vineyard also as people of God see Ps79/9-19
7. So vine: people chosen by God…”planted” by God…God’s beloved. Cared for by God. Cultivated by God. But not always with good fruits. Bitter at times. So empires come.
8. A vineyard is enclosed. Limits are given. In Is5/5, when the enclosure is broken, animals come to ravage the vines. Limit: according to the word of God. The word of God places limits…enclosure…protection… guidance. See Ps147/3 147/8-9.
9. Of course, there is the harvest and the wine press. Symbolizing abundance…plenty…
So we can appreciate the story of Naboth’s vineyard.
1. 1Kg21/1-3. Proposal of Ahab. Reasonable? Quite. If we think in modern-practical terms. But it sounds fishy too. Why? It will reduce Naboth—to dependency to Ahab and to loss of real estate. Hence Naboth knew and refused the King…of “Samaria”! Naboth had an obligation—not just traditional but also religious. See Nb36/7 and the exigence of God. Naboth has a living faith…and a determined faith. He knows what his faith is. He knows what he wants. Both knowing faith and knowing desire are together in him. He is threatened—by the accusations against him. He however knows that he is to keep his land. He knows it is part of his faith. He knows he wants to keep it. In spite of the threat he goes on and keeps his principles. He does not give in. Naboth—“fruit” or “product”—is a man of strong heart. He is “fruitful”…a sign of abundance. It is a fruit that stays. Remember in the NT where Jesus says that a grain must fall into the ground to bear fruit (Jn.12/24). So where is the Naboth inside of us—the Naboth that holds the vineyard together and does not give it up even if threatened. Where is the fruitfulness of this stand not to give up the vineyard. Naboth refuses to sell his property. He is attached to the tradition—a tradition that views land given by ancestors as a passing or transmitting of elders to next generations. See Nm36/7. He cannot accept taking property from Ahab—that will make him dependent on Ahab.
2. Ahab already “owns” Samaria. It is a heritage from his father Omri. (see 1 Kg 16/2). So Ahab owns a lot already. He owns properties, including a land near Naboth’s.
3. Is Ahab…a “gardener”? Maybe…just maybe. But note the proximity to his residence. It is the summer residence. Summer: time for work in fields…and watch workers. So it is not necessary to go far.
4. 1Kg 21/4: The immaturity” of Ahab. It must also have an influence on the marriage—the married life. Notice Jezebel’s reaction to Ahab.
5. 1Kg.21/5-7. Is Ahab telling the whole truth to Jezebel? Partly true…but omission of the reasonable refusal of Naboth. Ahab does not say this. He “brackets” it. So Ahab makes it look like Naboth is unreasonable.
6. Look at Jezable. What kind of a woman is she? She behaves like…what is “normal”? Notice how compassionate she is to her husband and how she affirms the authority of her husband. Well, her husband is immatured at this point. So she is catering to his immaturity. Maybe she is trying to be wife to him. It is a couple’s life anyway. But this fusion is blind to objectivity. Notice how she herself plays the “immaturity” game: she will take care of the problem. She does not let Ahab face it himself. … or if, at least, they both work it out and discuss. No…just let immaturity stay.
7. But wait, Jezable is from foreign culture…she is a Baalist. What does she know about the tradition of the Hebrews? She will act…in her way foreign to what is to be done. Well, she’s not completely zero too in the tradition of Israel. She knows that two witnesses are needed in a case (see Dt19/15). To establish a fact in court, two witnesses are necessary—to show that Naboth cursed God and King. (see also Ex 22/27). To curse God is to make a declaration falsely against God—and this too is against the Law (Dt13/7-11). She is smart…she is Baalist but with some knowledge of the Jewish world. Yet, does she know that Naboth cannot and will not sell his property? … Chances are yes, she knows.
8. 1Kg.21/11-14: Look back at Naboth’s refusal. His is a reasonable refusal—it is both tradition and religion. Everyone in the place knows it. Everyone, in other words, live according to the tradition and the religion. But look at the leaders here. They are easily “sold” to Jezebels’ strategy. Or maybe they are afraid of her? At any rate, compare them to Naboth…and see who has the courage to live according to tradition and faith. Naboth shows more courage and knowledge and principle.
9. 1Kg 21/15-16: The marriage of Ahab and Jezebel seems again described here. Jezebel looks tough—a tough woman…hard to the bones. Yet, she is someone who pleases her husband. Why? What is her take on this? Why be so charming to the King? Obviously there is the desire to be in power and protect the authority of the King. She profits from this too. Remember that part of her plan is to promote Baalism in the land. Now, if the wife is like this…then we see clearly the “personality” of the husband…an immature kid. This immaturity makes him easily manipulated.
10. Now, in modern practical thinking…given the power and authority of the threat…would one have sold his/her property? In practical terms, would Naboth have been wiser to sell his land? The tradition is a way of protecting territory…so that a family does not easily lose its security. By having land for generations, the family is safe. By refusing to sell his land, Naboth gets killed…he together with his family loses his property. So, is there not something strange here—strange in persisting to hold on to property? What do you think? There is no one straight answer…it is best to think a lot.
11. 1 Kg.21/17-19: Now comes Elijah in the picture. Ahab, knowing what his wife just did, is presented with the fault. How guilty is Ahab? He is “accessory” to the actions of his wife. So this is a husband and wife kind of guilt. (…or maybe “community” level?)
12. 1 Kg.21/20-24: God needs to act. It is a “punishment”…justice must be meted. What do you think of the nature of the penalty? Would you want this type of penalty?
13. 1 Kg.21/27-29: We are given here an image of God! What do you think? Is he too soft? Well, when there is “sorry”, God forgives. God is not a destructive God.
14. You may…but. Where did Ahab fail in this?
1. Elijah exercised his ministry during the time of kings Ahab and Ahaziah, both of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. During that time there was a lot of idolatry in the nation. Elijah was a strong defender of the primacy of the Lord God YHWH. Elijah went against the idolatry of King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel. (see 1Kg.17-22 and 2 Kg.1)
2. Elijah announced a drought of 3 years as punishment for idolatry. The Lord God commanded him to stay at the rivers of Cherisht and Zarepath. Elijah rewarded a widow for her hospitality by raising to life her dead son.
3. Elijah publicly challenged the idolatry of King Ahab and Jezebel by confronting the Baʿal’ priests/prophets at Mount Carmel. (See 1Kg18). This ended with the slaughter of the Baʿal’ists. Jezebel learned about this and wanted to have Elijah killed. Elijah fled from the queen and went to Mount Horeb. (Remember Horeb...or also known as Mt. Sinai...It is the mountain where Moses received the Lord God and the commandments. it was also there where a covenant pact was sealed between the Lord God and the people of Israel).
4. Up the mountain Elijah received a message from the Lord God. He was told to anoint Jehu, Hazael and the next prophet Elisha.
5. In 1Kg21 we read about the story of Naboth's vineyard, next to the king's palace. The King, Ahab, wanted that property but Naboth refused to sell. Jezebel then made a move to get the property by having Naboth killed. This led to the end of Ahab's household.
6. In 2Kg1 we read about Ahaziah, the next king. Ahaziah was sick and he consulted another god to check his health. This made Elijah angry who announced the death of this king.
7. In Mal.3/23 and Sirach 48/10 we read about the return of Elijah.
A look at one topic: The Baʿal’ cycle:
1. In 1 Kings 16:31 we read that King Ahab married Jezebel, daughter of a foreign King. Jezebel served 'the Baʿal' (also known as Baʿal'-Hadad, son of El, the supreme god). This was said to be the “king of the gods” and the possible successor of El. Baʿal’ was very important in the fertility of the land and people. Baʿal’ was also the god of rain, thunder, and extraordinary bolts of lightning. The cult of Baʿal’ was so common in Israel at that time.
2. There was the “Baʿal’ cycle” in written form (discovered by archaeologists in the 1920’s). The Baʿal’ Cycle showed that the god of chaos, Yam (also son of El), wanted to rule over the other gods and be the most powerful of all. Baʿal’ opposed by killing Yam. Baʿal’ persuaded the Highest God El to allow him make a palace. Baʿal’ commissioned the building of the palace.
3. There was also Mot (a word which means "death"). Mot, also son of El, was Baʿal’'s enemy. He was the god of the dead and all the powers that opposed life and fertility. Mot was the god of sterility and the master of all barren places. He was the favorite son of El. Mot and Baʿal’ were always in a seasonal struggle.
4. Baʿal’ had a sister-lover named Anath. She was the patronesses of sex and war—patroness of lust, violence and murder. She is represented often as a naked woman riding a lion with a lily (sex appeal) in one hand and a serpent (fertility) in the other. There was a practice of male and female cult prostitution consecrated to the honor of Anath. Sacred prostitutes were probably an established Phoenician institution for millennia - and the Phoenicians weren't the only culture to have them. Sacred prostitution was part of the cult practices. It was not an exclusively female occupation. Both male and female prostitutes were employed in cult uses.
5. Anath recovered the body of Baʿal’ and killed Mot. She grinded Mot to pieces and scattered him. Baʿal’ was then brought back to life and placed on Mot's throne. Fertility again was regained.
6. Notice the story of the Baʿal’ cycle and notice how it is related to the cycles of nature—fertility and harvests.
1 Kg 18 : the sacrifice on Mont Carmel
1. This is about the prophet Elijah—a name which means “the Lord is my God”. See what happens before chapter 18. Then go to chapter 18. What we see in Chapter 18 is a command—an order of God. It is a very clear and direct order: “Long afterward, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: Go, present yourself to Ahab, that I may send rain upon the earth” (18/1). The Lord God will end the drought, and he sends Elijah to Ahab to tell the news. But slowly the story gets complicated.
2. Verses 1-20 is about Elijah going on his way in the heart of the drought. Verses 21-40 is about the Carmel story. Verse 18/41-19/5, there is the rain and the flight to Horeb. Note that the Carmel story is sandwiched between the “dry” and the “wet”.
3. In the contest at Mount Carmel Elijah confronts the Baal prophets and priests. He wants to convince the people to take the side of the Lord God. Actually, as we know, the conflict with Baalism has already started way back in Chapter 17.
4. Elijah, we see, wins against the Baal prophets. Now, the queen Jesabel learns about it and wants to have Elijah killed. So the question of Elijah is this: what is the use of having the Lord God as stronger? Why serve the Lord God—I am threatened anyway by Jesable. Have I—Elijah—not executed the command of the Lord God? Have I—Elijah—not shown my faithfulness to God?
5. Ok, great. But now let us go back to the order of the Lord God. The order was to present himself to Ahab….that is all. The Lord God was not explaining how he will bring in the rain. That is the problem of the Lord…not Elijah.
6. Is God telling Elijah to organize a combat with the Baal prophets up Carmel? No. So, why did Elijah organize that battle? Might he not be caught in a mentality—a way of thinking—that the problem was that about power? Was he thinking that to confront Baalism, it was necessary to prove the power of the Lord God? Already in Chapter 17 he saw God as God of life. He was God of life in foreign land and in the midst of the poor. Now what is Elijah thinking…with his Carmel battle?
7. Let us read the dialogue between Elijah and Obadiah. This can show us the kind of person Elijah is. Look at 18/9.12.14 and especially 17: “When Ahab saw Elijah, he said to him, ‘Is it you, you disturber of Israel?’ (1Kg.18/17).
8. Encountering Ahab, Elijah starts his challenge up on Carmel. The challenge concerns the 850 Baal prophets under the care of Queen Jezebel. The conflict is not simply between Ahab and Elijah, not simply between the Lord God and Baal, not simply between Elijah and Jezebel. Jezebel has been only discreetly presented so far. She may be like the counter type woman in Sarepta: foreigner, rich, powerful and suspicious. Let us note that instead of telling the king the good news about the end of the drought, Elijah organizes a contest—a sacrificial contest. He steps beyond his mission.
9. Elijah called the Israelites together to watch the contest. The people are asked to choose between Baal and the Lord God. What do we read? The people seemed to be quiet. “Elijah approached all the people and said, ‘How long will you straddle the issue? If the LORD is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him’. But the people did not answer him (1Kg.18/21). After the victory of Elijah, he takes a powerful move by killing the Baal prophets. What is the image of God that he is presenting?
10. The fact that a contest is made between the Lord God and Baal is a sign that both are made equal. By winning, the Lord God now becomes a “super-Baal”. The Lord God has been trapped by his very own prophet. But the story is not finished, as we know. The Lord God will make an “appointment” with Elijah up Horeb.
11. Up the mountain of Carmel Elijah experienced a “dead end”. Note what he said: “At the time for offering sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came forward and said, ‘LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command’” (1Kg.18/36). Elijah was making a big picture of himself—that “I am your servant”. It is the big “I”. It has become an imposing “I”. In his challenge of the Baal prophets Elijah got entangled with power and violence. It would end in failure because the the dream of starting a society under a fiery God was broken by the angry fire of queen Jezebel.
12. At this point, the Lord God will lead Elijah to a new path and discover—the mystery and puzzle of the face of the Lord God.
1. At the time of Jeroboam II the kingdom of Israel grew rich and strong. He conquered almost all of Syria. He made Samaria a great city for all nations to see.
2. But another nation was now rising to power—Assyria. Nineveh, a great city, was its capital. The Assyrians started to conquer all the lands near them. Israel, the Northern Kingdom, was in danger of falling under Assyria.
3. Then came Ahab to rule over Israel. He provoked the anger of the Lord because, with his wife Jez’ebel, Baal was worshiped in the land. Both the King and the Queen had an altar built for Baal.
4. Eli’jah was sent to King Ahab. He proposed a contest. Two altars were built; one to the Lord God and one to Baal. The priests of Baal called upon their god. The asked that fire be sent down to their altar. There was no answer. Then Eli’jah called upon the Lord God. Fire came down and burnt up the altar offering.
5. The Baal priests were then killed. Hearing about this Jez’ebel got very angry and wanted to kill Eli’jah.
6. Later the queen, Jez’ebel, took a vineyard for Ahab. The vineyard belonged to Naboth. Jez’ebel caused Naboth to be killed. Ahab later took his vineyard.
7. Once more Eli’jah came and denounced Ahab and Jez’ebel. He told them that they had done something evil. The Lord would punish them.
8. In a little while Eli’jah’s words came true. Ahab was slain in battle and Jez’ebel was put to death. Eli’jah did not die. He was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire.
9. Let us read 1 Kings 19/1-8.
v.1 Ahab told Jez'ebel all that Eli'jah had done, and how he had slain all the Baal priests with the sword.
v.2 Then Jez'ebel sent a messenger to Eli'jah, saying, "So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not kill you tomorrow as what happened to those who just died."
v.3 Then he was afraid, and he arose and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
v.4 But he himself took a one day journey into the desert, and came and sat down under a broom tree. He asked that he might die, saying, "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers."
v.5 And he lay down and slept under the broom tree. Then an angel came and touched him, and said to him, "Arise and eat."
v.6 And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank, and lay down again.
v.7 And the angel of the LORD came again a second time, and touched him, and said, "Arise and eat, you must because the journey will be too much for you."
v.8 And he arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
1. Ahab is a weak man. He is so dependent on his wife. He is Hebrew and he belongs to the covenant of the Lord…but he is not free from his wife’s idolatry. So even here he tells his wife what happened to the Baal priests. Who is to really get angry? It is not Ahab but Jez’ebel. Jez’ebel seems to really worship and exalts Baal. She threatens Eli’jah. She wants him killed…as soon as possible. How does she want Eli’jah killed? Verse 2 tells us that she wants him killed “as what happened to those who just died." But how did the Baal priests die? Eli’jah ordered the people to slaughter them. So if Jez’ebel wants Eli’jah killed, what would it mean?
2. This explains why Eli’jah has to flee at once. There is no time to say good bye to anyone…it will be too risky. Eli’jah has to flee and there is no time to waste.
3. What could be the feeling of Eli’jah at this point? Earlier he was able to mobilize the slaughter of Baal priests. He has seen his own power! Now confronted with the power of Jez’ebel, what might Eli’jah be feeling? There must be something about the power of Jez’ebel. Clearly Eli’jah wants to save his life. So he first goes to a place where he can feel safe—Beer-sheba. Verse 3 tells us that it is in the South. At this time North and South are not in friendly terms.
4. But Eli’jah does not settle in Beer-sheba. He leaves his servant in Beer-sheba. Where does Eli’jah want to go? Verse 8 tells us where it is…and it tells us what exactly is that place. Notice then: Eli’jah goes to the south, leaves behind his servant and moves to a place where he can be alone with God.
5. But why does he leave his servant behind? Why would he want to be alone? The choice to move alone is a very risky choice…in the desert. But Eli’jah wants to be alone. How does this strike you?
6. To be alone in a “one-day journey” in the desert is to have nobody to help. If he is alone, at least he must have provisions. But…he has no provisions either. He is so alone, so dependent nothing at all. He flees with nothing and no one. What could this mean? How do you see this? When he is alone, where will he get his resources to move on?
7. At this point, Eli’jah is in trouble. He wants a solution to it. So, notice the next thing he does…he sits under the shade of a broom tree. This means that he has to stop first. He does not go on. He does not continue his walk. He might be tired of walking under the heat of the sun…he might want to rest. Eli’jah finds shade.
8. The pause can do many things to Eli’jah. It can get his head running. It gives the occasion to think, to imagine, to dwell on thoughts about Jez’ebel, the Baal priests, about the future, etc. He can get obsessed with one or two thoughts.
9. What could be in the head of Eli’jah now that he is under the shade? Verse 4 gives us an idea: "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers." How do you interpret this prayer? What is enough? What could he mean in being “no better than my fathers”. He might be trying to fulfill an ideal. He might be trying to measure himself up according to the standards of his fathers…according to the standards of the elders. He is fed up…because…? What do you think? What could these standards be? In Eli’jah, there is a feeling that could be more than fear. What could it be? (Hint: What is our emotion arising when we do not reach an ideal?)
10. Sleep puts an end to this prayer…and it puts an end to the running head of Eli’jah. What can sleep do to him? There is rest…rest from what and rest for what? When asleep, he will “do nothing”. Sleep could mean the cessation of doing anything. The body rests. If there is anything that will happen, it will happen from the outside and not from Eli’jah. Sleep, therefore, allows for the next step to take place. (See the difference between pausing under the tree shade and sleeping?)
11. What happens next? An angel comes, awakens him and commands to him, "Arise and eat." The angel comes at the moment of sleep. The angel awakens Eli’jah. What can re-awakening do to Eli’jah? One possibility is that Eli’jah can return to his earlier imaginations. He can return to his frustrations, his complaining and depression.
12. The strategy to help his really awaken—and step out of ruminating—is what verse 6 presents: at the head of Eli’jah is a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. Someone fetched him water and must have been preparing the bread. How does this strike you? Notice that Eli’jah is all alone—and it is his choice to be alone. Suddenly, there is bread-and-water. (“Hot stones” means the bread is freshly baked.) Eli’jah is being served by an angel.
13. Imagine, being in your room, you wake up from a siesta. In front of you is baked bread—still warm! You never brought it in your room…you just wake up to see it there, nice and warm. Ah! Questions can be asked: “How did this get here?” or “Who brought it here?” Eli’jah makes no question. What does he do? He easts, drinks and then lies down again. He does not look around to see if anyone is present—anyone who brought these things. He just eats, drinks then lies down again. How does this behavior of Eli’jah strike you?
14. We are not sure if Eli’jah sleeps again…the story gives no evidence. However, he returns to lying down again. Many thoughts can happen again in him…in case he does not sleep. He can let his head run again. He can think about Jez’ebel, the Baal priests, the future, etc. He can get obsessed with one or two thoughts. Notice that he does not finish the bread and water. The angel must make him arise and eat again. So Eli’jah must be in some kind of mood right now. What do you think?
15. A strategy has to pull Eli’jah out of this. The angel returns and commands again, “Arise and eat”. There is no new bread…so Eli’jah is told to eat and drink enough for the journey. The journey is “too much”. In other words, Eli’jah has embarked on a very tough journey where he is alone, he has no provisions. The angel suggests that he replenish his strength. In the strength of that food, Eli’jah completes his long walk to Horeb, the mountain of God. What has he given up? He is now able to pursue his goal.
16. What kind of a man is Eli’jah? In the story do we notice a change in him? That change was facilitated by the angel.
17. What could be the main theme of this story? (Hint: it is a story about Eli’jah and the Lord God—through the angel). Appropriate: Do you feel the Eli’jah story happening to you…?
God is a God of relationship…not a God of self-focus. Hence his creation installed separation in the world so that there will be relations. The human is placed in that created world and the human is to be in relationship with one another. In that relationship there is recognition of the beauty and wonder of the presence of each other—each “ezer” or “faithful companion”. Adventure with each other and bloom. This is happiness. To sustain this, trust the word of God. Enter into a “covenant” with God…be his people and he be your God. What exactly was the word of God, what did God say? He said “you may…but”. You may do as you want but recognize that as soon as you try to be an absolute you destroy relationships…you destroy life.
The studies we made have shown that at certain points when one becomes an absolute and fails to trust the word of God, life is at peril. Abram became an absolute and lied to the Egyptians and put Sarai in such a horrible condition in the Pharaoh’s harem. Sarah lost track of God’s word and tried to be an absolute in her forcing a son through Hagar. Abraham at a certain point risked becoming an absolute and own exclusively Isaac…hence he had to “sacrifice” Isaac and put him back into God’s hands. Moses, at a later stage of his life, became an absolute to himself by thinking that the water flowing from the rock would be due to his own powers. David became an absolute in violating Bathsheba and having Uriah killed. Naboth became an absolute in taking the land of Naboth. Elijah became an absolute in his fight against Baalism.
Exam review for the Pentateuch-Samuel-Kings-Wisdom Literature class
1. What were the major features of the image of God according to Job? We may be harboring the same image of God inside of us. It is an image that needs to be corrected.
2. Why say that the first creation story of Genesis is a “six-plus-one-day” story? Describe the first six days and note how a day is in parallel with another day: 1-4, 2-5, 3-6. What was the role of “breath” of God?
3. Why say that the first creation story is more about text on salvation?
4. God took a “sabbath distance”. Explain how this distance is also a description of how the human will be in the likeness of God.
5. Can you see how this image of God in the first creation story different from the image seen by Job?
6. What is the “mission” of the human in the second creation story? Why say that Gen2/16-17 is a command that “you may…but”? Who is an ezer? If the a person violates Gen2/16-17 then that person stops being ezer to others and stops accepting others as ezer?
7. Can you see how this image of God in the second creation story different from the image seen by Job?
8. What was the image of God that the snake was trying to promote? Can you show how the image of God according to Job is similar to the image of God according to the snake? It is this image of God that creates misunderstanding about God.
9. How is the image of God according to the snake an idolatry?
10. How is the call to leave homeland, as seen in Abraham, an illustration of the meaning of Gen2/16-17?
11. Show how Abram violated the design of God. Show how Sarah violated the design of God. Why are these two errors illustrative of the failure to observe Gen2/16-17? Fortunately Abraham (and maybe Sarah) repented.
12. Show how Moses violated the design of God. What was in the attitude of Moses that displeased God? How is that attitude also an illustration of violating Gen2/16-17? Moses had to face his true self in the process…and he had to accept the pain of not entering the “promised land”.
13. Show how the action of David towards Bathsheba and Uriah was proof of the violation of Gen2/16-17. David was in denial that he was wrong. It took a prophet to awaken him.
14. Show how the action of King Ahab towards Naboth was proof of the violation of Gen2/16-17. What was the behavior of King Ahab? What was the role of queen Jezebel in supporting her husband? Ahab repented…but not Jezebel. Notice also that Ahab needed a prophet to awaken him to his fault. That was the prophet Elijah.
15. Show how the prophet Elijah also violated Gen2/16-17 through his pride and self-glorification. He had to go through a “desert experience” to awaken him from his fault. Describe even just partly how this awakening happened.