Think You Know All About Genesis? (A book review)

Whatever you know about Alan Dershowitz, if you’re like me, it’s not from reading his books. So when I came across this one, I was quite intrigued. About the only thing we have in common is we both have benefitted by living in homes who taught us the value of the Bible.

His upbringing in Judaism and his practicing of law tremendously frame his view of God, man, and the Bible. He most definitely has a biblical worldview. Does that mean all biblical worldviewers would agree with his interpretations of Genesis? Pretty sure you know the answer to that question.

My opinion: that should not keep one from reading another’s integrated and exhaustive presentation of their interpretation, in particular if their frame is one you do not have. That explains why I valued this reading. I grew because of Dershowitz’s work. That’s enough for me.

If these nine quotes make you think even a hint differently about Genesis, here’s your sign to choose growth:

A God who can admit that His mind has been changed by mere humans is a truly great teacher. (referencing God and The Flood)

The God who invites Abraham to argue with him about justice is a God who encourages rational discourse. The God who rebuked Job for trying to understand an obvious injustice is a God who promotes unthinking fundamentalism. One of the beauties of the Bible is that even its God speaks in different voices over time.

The entire book of Genesis is about the early development of justice in human society…The Genesis stories all take place before the advent of formal rules of law… Viewing Genesis as a book about the development of justice before the existence of a formalized legal system helps to explain why the narrative is so much about crime, sin, deception, revenge, punishment, and other bad actions.

For all of his trickery, Jacob never tries to deceive God. He bargains with him, even wrestles with him, but he’s always straight with God. The result is that God blesses Jacob with leadership, but makes him understand that the wages of deception are deception.

Like much of the earlier narratives of Genesis, the Joseph story shows us what it was like to live in a world without a legal system – a world in which those with high status could, with impunity, falsely accuse those of lower status. It shows us the need for a system of justice in which all stand equally before the law and those accused of a crime have a fair opportunity to challenge the evidence against them and demonstrate that it was planted, false, or mistaken. It leads inexorably to the later biblical rules against favoring in judgment either the rich or the poor.

The common law of Judaism is that it is not only permissible, it is obligatory to argue even with God about a proposed injustice. Humans can argue with God, but they cannot refuse to obey a direct order from Him. (referencing God and Abraham)

Had the Torah-the great law book-simply begun with a list of rules, the reader would wonder about the basis for the rules. Some of them appear eminently logical, but the others cannot be understood without reference to the experience of the Jewish people.

If the book of Genesis tells the story of the developing legal system-ad hoc rules, common law, statutes, and so on-then Sinai does not represent so dramatic a break with the past. It is a culmination of a process begun in the garden of Eden and continued with Cain, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Dina, Tamar, Joseph, and the other actors in opening narratives of the Bible.

The Bible uses stories of injustice to teach about the need for justice…The story of Genesis will continue until the end of humankind.

Three Things I’m Thankful For

This quote I read last night leads me to three things I’m thankful for today:

Maybe part of the reason we have such a hard time with no is that we aren’t still long enough to discover the yes. Think about it. This would be a great exercise on a personal retreat. Ask yourself, “What is the higher Yes in my life that will become the filter through which I make decisions?” Write it down and declare it to those around you.

So this Thanksgiving I’m thankful for:

  • Higher Yeses – These come from God’s purpose for our lives. Living in them brings him glory.
  • Uniqueness – We all have unique higher yeses, also from God. Accepting and owning ours and encouraging others to do the same brings him glory.
  • Being Seen and Heard – I’m often reminded that God sees and hears us through Hagar and Ishmael’s story in Genesis 16. In our decision making, in our stillness, in our wandering, in our pain, in our blessing-in all of life, his seeing and hearing us reveals his glory.

May his glory be known by our choosing higher yeses, owning our uniqueness, and pursuing being seen and heard by him.

The Power of Bold Praying

(Day 25 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace. So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived. – Genesis 19:27–29

In this familiar passage, Moses describes the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah from Abraham’s perspective. Abraham rises early on the morning God brought sulfur and fire down upon the evil cities, returning to the place he had stood before the Lord a day earlier. He then looks down on the valley where these sinful cities once stood. Instead of a crowded civilization, the entire region had filled with smoke and fire.

It occurs to me that even though Lot and his family are safe and sound, this scene had to be very sad, even crippling in a way. Abraham most likely does not realize his nephew had been rescued, so his initial look toward the valley probably caused him grief and pain. I think we can all identify with this. Who among us has not felt the pain and fear, at least momentarily, that something terrible has happened to someone we love?

I believe that Verse 29 gives us one of the most important lessons we can learn from Sodom’s destruction: “God remembered Abraham,” …, “and sent Lot out.” We can understand from the greater context that Abraham’s interceding prayer saved Lot. It was not Lot’s own goodness but rather Abraham’s boldness in prayer on the behalf of Lot that saved him. “God remembered Abraham.” Isn’t it wonderful that God remembers bold prayers?

Consider also that if God remembered Abraham, how much more will He remember the prayers of His Son? The Lord Jesus Christ can “save us to the uttermost” because He continually intercedes for all those with faith in Him. This makes me want to shout and sing praises to His name!

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25

By Doug Hull

Adversity: The Integrity Test

Adversity. No one wants it, but when we get it we gain so much. Sometimes that gain feels immediate. Other times it may seem decades before we realize it. I believe the latter was Joseph’s experience (for a refresher, read Genesis 37-50). However long it took him, here’s how he let us know his gain:

You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result-the survival of many people. (Genesis 50:20)

A mindset toward gain from adversity is found in Joseph’s statement. The mindset is vertical (about God), not horizontal (about man). Rather than looking at what man or circumstances have planned, he had learned to look at what God had planned. Easier said than done in the face of adversity, right?

I want to suggest that one preparation we can make before adversity knocks on the door is to make a commitment to integrity.

A commitment to integrity in the face of adversity will…

  • …guard against fear invasion (horizontal).
  • …ward off impulsive reaction (horizontal) giving foundation for calm decisions (vertical).
  • …raise the banner for complete transparency (vertical).
  • …remove selfish ambition (horizontal) to bring in a kingdom mindset (vertical).

Maybe you haven’t considered that integrity is what’s being tested in your adversity. There’s no way around the reality that adversity peels back the layers and shows everyone who we really are. How are you preparing for that revelation? How can you study for the integrity test?

If Only

13 years. That’s a long time to walk in the wrong direction. Ask Abraham.

Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram. When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before me and be blameless.”

These two verses from Genesis are only separated by chapter delineation (16:16-17:1). It appears for thirteen years, at least, Abram did not hear from God directly like he had previously. This time period followed he and his wife’s decision to do things their way, a way not given to them by God. This decision was a deliberate choice that could be concluded with two words: “if only.”

So Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael were acceptable to you!”

He said this in 17:18 (Read the rest of the conversation between verses 1-18 to see why his name changed, among other things). Abraham said this in response to just being told, in so many words, quite graciously, “My plan hasn’t changed. Even though you tried your way, I’m still offering you a better way.” Thankfully, we all can say Abraham followed the plan.

This scene offers us hope when we’ve followed Abram’s and Sarai’s path. At some point we all seem to face the choice to wait, or to devise our own way, or to heed questionable counsel. It’s almost as if a salesperson shows us a pair of blinders, and we knowingly reply, “Yes. I’ll have a pair.” For whatever reason, we complete the transaction, say thank you, put them on, and walk out the door…until God shows up, however long that takes.

Fortunately for us, God is gracious. And if we receive that grace and give him our blinders, we reap the benefits of faith. As he was told, Abraham received tremendous blessings that have been passed on to many generations for placing his faith in God’s way despite “if only.”

Do you have an unresolved “if only”? Are you wearing blinders? How long before you follow Abraham’s lead?