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Who Are The “sons of the gods” in Genesis 6?

July 17, 2018 Leave a comment

One of the questions which cannot be definitively answered by even most well-educated scholars is, who are the “sons of God” (or more accurately in the Hebrew, the “sons of the gods”) in Genesis 6.2? Ultimately, speculating about who these people are is in some ways an exercise in futility, as one can never know for sure. Still, I think an attempt to explain my perspective on which theory is most likely to be accurate will help illuminate some of the Scriptures and show a thematic thread which may not otherwise be as clear, even if ultimately I cannot be conclusive about the referent of the phrase, “sons of the gods.”

The confusing text, Genesis 6.1-4:

Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he is also flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

There are three main theories about who the sons of the gods are, all of which are, in my opinion, based on reasonable interpretations of the Scriptures.

The first is that the sons of God are men from the line of Seth, Adam and Eve’s faithful son. In this case the daughters of men are those who are from the line of Cain (or from a line not of Seth). The evil these sons of God committed was intermarrying with outsiders and polluting the bloodline.

The second theory is that the sons of the gods are angels, or some type of spiritual being, who left their place in heaven to have sex with and marry humans. The evil they committed was perverting the sexual order of creation and also polluting the human bloodline.

The third theory is that the sons of the gods are local rulers. The daughters of men then refers to the everyday women who have little power and thus are vulnerable to the will of these rulers. The evil being committed by these rulers is the use of power to make wives of whichever vulnerable women they desire.baalsacrificealtar

I believe this third theory accords with historical evidence, best accounts for the textual data, and most seamlessly fits within the surrounding narrative. Other authors have done a far better job than I could explaining how this view fits very well with Hebrew language, historical documents outside of scriptures, and ancient understandings of the passage, so my primary focus will be on the narrative context. These are the reasons I believe this view to be the most likely:

  1. Local gods have always been closely associated with local rulers.
  2. The sons of the gods act out one of the explicit consequences of sin entering the world in Genesis 3.
  3. The sons of the gods are an example of evil’s progress since the first sin.
  4. This brief story immediately precedes the flood narrative and forms a part of the explanation of why God sent the flood.
  5. The rulers discussed in the stories of Abraham and Isaac are like the sons of the gods.
  6. The sin of the sons of the gods is committed again by future rulers of Israel.

Historically it is common to apply divine terms to local rulers. Even in recent European history, there was a close connection between God and monarchs. Their power and right to rule was declared divine. This god-ruler association was far more close and common thousands of years ago. Rulers were sometimes even considered gods themselves.

More often it was easier to explain their power and right to rule by claiming descendance from gods. These regional despots are then referenced individually as a “son of [insert name of one of the regional gods here].” It is plausible the author of Genesis used the term “sons of the gods” to refer to this group of rulers more generally. Within the context of this passage, it is a natural interpretation to assume these sons of God are humans who have godlike power.

If this is the case, then the text is contrasting the terms “sons of god” and “daughters of man.” The author is deliberately displaying the power differential between these two groups to highlight the relative powerlessness of the daughters of man. The sons of god are using their superior power over others to take as many wives as they want and whomever they want and no one can stop them. The women then, along with their fathers and husbands, are victims of the the local rulers.

These actions can be viewed as a playing out of the consequences of sin entering the world. One of the consequences for Woman was that “[her] desire will be for [her] husband and he will rule over [her]” (Gen 3.16). In the world of the text, women were often treated as property of their fathers. Marriage was a transference of ownership from the fathers to the husbands. Even in many of the most peaceful cases, marriage was an act of the husband ruling over his wife. In the case of the powerful local rulers who take whichever women they want (implying the women have no choice in the matter), marriages are even less voluntary. If we look at the evil characters in Genesis who precede the sons of God, this textual link becomes more solidified.

God warned Adam and Eve that their sin would bring death and this is tragically fulfilled when one of their sons kills the other. In Genesis 4, Cain kills his brother Abel in a rivalrous, jealous rage. Sin in the world brings death to humanity. After Cain sins and kills his brother, Cain, like his parents, was exiled. In his exile, Cain builds a city. He acquires a small local region to be the domain over which he reigns.

Lamech is one of Cain’s descendants who demonstrates that he shares some of Cain’s personality traits. One notable act of Lamech is that he took two wives. To them he said,

“Adah and Zillah,
Listen to my voice,
You wives of Lamech,
Give heed to my speech,
For I have killed a man for wounding me;
And a boy for striking me;
24 If Cain is avenged sevenfold,
Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” (Gen 4.23-24)

In his brief recorded speech, Lamech reveals his likeness to his ancestor Cain. He is not only similar to Cain in that he is violent and has no qualms about murdering even young boys, but describes himself as a far more vengeful version. The person of Lamech is the text’s demonstration that sin, and thus death, is growing and spreading across the earth. The effects of Adam and Eve’s first sin continue to progress. This story shows two characteristics of evil getting worse in the world. People are becoming more violent and are taking more wives.

Many generations after Lamech, the reader discovers this evil has progressed even further. The sons of the gods, like the violent men who came before them, are committing ever more violence and taking ever more women to be their wives. These men are an advanced version of Cain and Lamech. They are the growth of evil over time.

It is this growth of violence which causes God to regret making man and to send the flood. Immediately after the story of the sons of the gods, the author says,
Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in his heart (Genesis 6.5-6).

It is highly probable God’s analysis of the greatness of man’s wickedness is directly related to the immediately preceding verses about the sons of the gods, as well as the preceding stories in Genesis about the other evil men (Cain and Lamech). The author isn’t jumping one subject to another, from the sons of the gods to the flood, but telling a related and progressive narrative.

We can be confident that violence is the central wickedness God has in mind because it is the only wickedness mentioned explicitly as the reason behind the flood.

Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. (Gen 6.11)

Things were so violent on the earth, humans were so destructive to one another, God decided to hit the reset button on the world. Reading the text as a cohesive narrative leads one to conclude that the story which precedes the flood is directly related to the flood. The sons of the gods are an example of the type of overwhelming violence God saw on the earth.

Immediately after the flood, sin re-entered the world through Noah and his sons. A couple chapters later, we find many powerful rulers have arisen. When we look at the assumptions of Abraham and his son Isaac, we see that these rulers are quite similar to Lamech and the sons of the gods which came before them. They also are known for taking many women, whomever they choose, to be their wives.

There are three stories which exemplify these assumptions of the main characters of the text: Abraham and Pharaoh in Genesis 12.10-20, Abraham and Abimelech in Genesis 20.1-18, and Isaac and Abimelech in Genesis 26.1-12. These stories are all different and have many other narrative purposes, but one thing they have in common are Abraham’s and Isaac’s assumptions that the local people with power will kill them and take their wives as their own.

In every story, the main characters lie to the local people with power, saying that their wives are their sisters in order to protect their own lives. Perhaps Abraham and Isaac are just paranoid individuals, but it is more likely their assumption they will be killed and their wives taken has a basis in reality. It is likely that it is common for the more powerful local rulers to take the beautiful women they want to be their wives and kill anyone who stands in the way. The results of sin progressing in the world before the flood parallel the results of sin progressing in the world after the flood.

When we read the story of the sons of the gods in Genesis 6 as being local rulers using superior force to take women as their wives, they become an archetype for future rulers throughout the Old Testament. The very sins for which God sent the flood are sins God warns about when discussing Israel’s future kings and the sins we find Israel’s kings committing.

In the book of Deuteronomy, God, through Moses, anticipates that Israel will put a king on the throne to be like the other nations. He then provides them some guidelines about what the king should be like and what the king should not be like. One of the things to avoid is found in Deuteronomy 17.17.

He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. 

The way the king’s heart being led astray was most likely to manifest is by worshiping the gods of his wives. This is probably the primary implication the author of Deuteronomy had in mind. However, in at least one notable example, a king’s pursuit of many wives led his heart astray in such a way that the king acted just like the local rulers in Genesis.

David is widely considered to be Israel’s best king. He is the king to whom all the other kings are compared. When they’re good, they walked in the ways of David. When they’re bad, they didn’t. Still, David sins a lot as king. His most infamous sin is sleeping with a woman and killing her husband.

2 Samuel 11.1-5

One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful,and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

When one reads this passage side by side with Genesis 6, the parallels are striking. David, the local ruler, saw a daughter of man who was beautiful. So what does David do next? Well, the only natural thing for an overwhelmingly powerful ruler to do. He uses his power to sleep with the powerless Bathsheba. What choice does she really have in this situation? In this culture? Say no to the king? That’s barely a choice. He takes whomever he sees and desires.

Soon after this, David does exactly what Abraham feared Pharoah and Abimelech would do. Bathsheba’s husband Uriah was a loyal warrior in David’s army. So David, being crafty and wanting to maintain popularity with his people by hiding his murder, comes up with this plan:

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die: (2 Samuel 11.14-15)

The plan works. Uriah dies fighting for his king who slept with his wife. David then marries Bathsheba. He is, in this moment, just like the sons of the gods. He commits the very sin of covetous violence for which God sent the flood. The sons of the gods become an archetype not just for future pagan rulers in Genesis, but also for the greatest king Israel ever had.

For these reasons I believe the theory that the sons of the gods were local rulers fits best with the biblical narrative. Combined with articles which analyze historical evidence in the ancient near east,* this theory is far more compelling than any of the others. But it might be wrong.

* One such article: Who were the sons of the gods?

 

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A Personal Reflection On A Creative Project

November 9, 2017 Leave a comment

A little over two years ago, on the day I turned 30 years old, I released the first episode of a podcast entitled, “Christian Anarchy.” It is essentially a podcast devoted to explaining to followers of Jesus that they should not support the violent treatment of peaceful people, alerting Jesus followers to the reality that all Nation-States exist through the violent treatment of peaceful people, and thus followers of Jesus should not support the existence of Nation-States. I was embarrassed to release my first episode.

I’m still a little embarrassed to bring it back up. I do not find the subject matter embarrassing and I’m more confident than ever in the essential message of the podcast. I was embarrassed because at the time, I was a well below average speaker. I knew the podcast would be full of flaws, yet I believed the truth of the ideas themselves would add enough value to listeners that many could overlook my lack of ability. In order to communicate the message in this format, I had to put my weakness in full view of others.

This project resulted in a lot of personal growth. I learned a lot about magic internet stuff and more than I knew existed about audio production. The extent of my previous knowledge of audio recording was: 1. Press record on cassette player. 2. Fart into mic. 3. Rewind. 4. Press play. 5. Giggle. Now I can record, edit, and mix audio and make it sound professional… like a really cheap professional who is bad at his job, but still.

Learning a few new concrete skills in my elderly condition was good for my aging brain. Moreso than this, I became better at things I’ve often thought I could not do. Creating a podcast episode every week was an essential element in working my way up to becoming a mediocre public communicator. I took debate class in high school to avoid speech. I sprinted through every verbal presentation in college. I’ve always avoided monologues. I never thought these forms of public speaking were a skillset I could have. With a lot of practice, and putting myself in vulnerable positions, I’m now a passably decent sermonizer and I crush best man speeches. It turns out you can become better at things you suck when you do it a lot.

Perhaps the most important skill I strengthened is consistent, self-motivated follow through. I have a tendency to be motivated by external factors. Yes, I’ll show up at the event I said I would show up at because others are directly involved. I’ll finish the homework I signed up to finish. I will do the tasks I need to in order to make money. I’ll do what I said I would because others are depending on me. Releasing a podcast every week is different. No one is depending on me, I won’t make money, I have no external obligations. I simply put the work in (sometimes it was a lot) to make it happen consistently because I desired to. My internal motivation was enough.

Despite the near unending list of criticisms I could level at this creative project, it’s by far the best thing I’ve ever produced. I don’t know of any ideas more important and less discussed in our world. Nothing I’ve done has had anywhere near the reach of the podcast. Never have I received so much gratitude and compliments than in email after email people sent me from all over the world in response.

The positive reaction of so many who listened to me talk for 35 hours was disarming. I had to put down the weapons I would normally use against myself because it would have been irrational to use them. Many negative things are true about the show. It suffers from my lack of monologuing ability. It is too dry. It’s too dense for the audio format at many points. The show is redundant in others. It’s boring. My jokes are idiotic. My understanding and knowledge is sometimes very shallow. These things are true, but I cannot use them to shame myself or convince myself I wasted my time. Too many people, too many individuals who are among the most reasonable, open minded, intellectually honest, and compassionate I know, were so happy and grateful I could not take up arms against myself.

One lesson I am in a frequent state of learning is that I should always live disarmed of my own judgment. I do not mean absent of honest self-evaluation, but absent a judgmental mindset which can so easily accompany such self-evaluation. There is little to be gained by self-shame. Nothing to be gained by shaming one’s own creative work. And there is great freedom in being able to create things without fear of what anyone will think about it, including oneself. Shamelessness also creates an inner peace which allows for the kind of honest self-perspective out of which self-improvement can flourish.

In case you are reading this and happen to be interested in glancing at the podcast I’ve been discussing, here: Christianarchy

 

Jeremiah 33: You Are Not Rejected

September 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Most Christians I know have felt rejected by God at some point in their life. Some of them struggle with this feeling on a regular basis. This is especially true when they have some sin they keep repeating or believe they have committed a sin so big God cannot accept them again. As most of us have discovered at some point, sin has real negative consequences in our life, sometimes very grave consequences, and when we are facing this difficult repercussions, it feels like God is not there with us, and thus has rejected us. The people of God in Jeremiah 33 felt this too.

23 The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: 24 “Have you not observed that these people are saying, ‘The Lord has rejected the two clans that he chose’? Thus they have despised my people so that they are no longer a nation in their sight. 25 Thus says the Lord: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, 26 then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.”

The people of Israel and Judah are in exile. They are no longer under their own kings, but are being ruled at home and abroad by the Babylonian empire. Their countries and their central cities have been destroyed. Their holy places are in ruins. And they know it is because of their sin, because they neglected justice and worshiped the gods of Babylon that YHWH allowed Babylon to destroy their nation. Naturally, in their present state of despair, they conclude God has rejected them.

YHWH has always allowed for freedom to sin. Such liberty is built into the structure of Creation. Sin, because it is a deviation from the good God’s design, has negative consequences. God allows for these negative consequences because He wants human choice to have power to impact the world positively. With this power also comes the ability to impact the world negatively. When these painful consequences occur, it is tempting to, like the exiles, believe God has rejected us.

As we see, this is not the case. God is not giving up on His people. He made promises a thousand years prior and hundreds of years prior which he is not abandoning. He is faithful even when the people who claim to follow Him are faithless. The end is not the present moment of suffering, the end is instead a full restoration provided not through the faithfulness of His people, but by his own mercy. He always has a plan for good.

For those who have seen Jesus in the Scriptures and met Him in our lives, how much more does this promise ring true! Jesus puts on display mercy and acceptance even of those who have rejected Him, even of those who killed Him, in a way so clear it cannot be mistaken. Jesus is the character of God in human flesh and in the gospels we see Him reaching out to the most rejected sinners on page after page. The message of God to His people is always, ultimately one of hope. He is always standing with open arms to all, even those who run from him, waiting for them to turn and fall into His unconditionally loving embrace.

Jeremiah 32: You Asked For This

At the beginning of Jeremiah 32, our prophet is locked in prison because he keeps telling besieged Jerusalem that they’re gonna lose. King Zedekiah is not a fan. Jeremiah’s response while locked up? He keeps saying things which would be quite troubling to the people in Jerusalem.

Jeremiah 32.26-35

26 Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, 27 “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?”28 Therefore thus says the Lord, “Behold, I am about to give this city into the hand of the Chaldeans and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he will take it. 29 The Chaldeans who are fighting against this city will enter and set this city on fire and burn it, with the houses where people have offered incense to Baal on their roofs and poured out drink offerings to other gods to provoke Me to anger. 30 Indeed the sons of Israel and the sons of Judah have been doing only evil in My sight from their youth; for the sons of Israel have been only provoking Me to anger by the work of their hands,” declares the Lord. 31 “Indeed this city has been to Me a provocation of My anger and My wrath from the day that they built it, even to this day, so that it should be removed from before My face, 32 because of all the evil of the sons of Israel and the sons of Judah which they have done to provoke Me to anger—they, their kings, their leaders, their priests, their prophets, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 33 They have turned their back to Me and not their face; though I taught them, teaching again and again, they would not listen and receive instruction. 34 But they put their detestable things in the house which is called by My name, to defile it.35 They built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of Ben-hinnom to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.

At the beginning of this passage, God says he is about to give Jerusalem into the hands of those attacking it. This is one of the main ways the Scriptures explain God’s punishment of people. He allows the choices of kings and armies to take effect and the result is the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people. God performs these judgments by allowing the natural results of human action to take effect in full force. He works with exercise of free will to accomplish his purposes, even when He purposes to express His wrath.

The text makes it clear why YHWH was angry and frustrated with His people. They were brazenly worshipping other gods. They worshipped these gods on their homes, they built altars and places of worship, and they sacrificed to other gods. They even sacrificed their own children to these other gods! Despite warning after warning from YHWH, they continued in these practices. They were not interested in being His people, they wanted to be the people of all the gods. YHWH doesn’t work this way. He wants people to follow Him alone or follow other gods. Not both.

In a sense, God’s withdrawal, which allowed the Chaldeans and Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to capture Jerusalem, was exactly what the Jews wanted. God warned them what the worship of these foreign gods would lead to, and they continued in their idolatry. They wanted to worship Baal. They wanted him to have power. And guess whose god Baal is? Baal is the god of Babylon.

They wanted these gods to have power, now they do! Congratulations people, you did it. In a narrative sense, YHWH is allowing these gods to exert their power, through Babylon, upon the nation of Israel. Israel is getting exactly what they asked for in a different way than they desired. Their city is now being destroyed by the gods they worshiped and many of them will be shipped to lands where these gods are even more honored. The idols of Israel will become their rulers and ruin their lives.

John’s Birth Narrative

April 10, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve taught about this topic based on this section of text at church before, but for no reason in particular, this passage has been running through my head again and I thought I would try to clarify and solidify my thoughts through writing.

Unlike the gospels of Luke and Matthew, the gospel of John does not tell us about the birth story of Jesus at the beginning of the book. Instead, John chooses to explain Jesus’ entrance into the world as the Creator God taking on human flesh to bear His image perfectly and put on display humanity as humanity was intended to be. However, it is my contention that John’s gospel does contain a birth narrative, but the birth of Jesus does not occur until the end of the book.

So as not to get bogged down, we will be flying through these texts, only pointing out what is pertinent to my argument, and deliberately ignoring some of the most important elements of the story. We’ll start with Jesus on the cross nearing death.

John 19.25a-27
But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
26 When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He *said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then He *said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.

For our purposes, there’s only one thing I want you to pay attention to in this passage, which we probably normally wouldn’t give a second thought. Who are the women here? Well, we have Jesus’ mother, whose name every reader or hearer (hereon, we’ll use only the term reader, even though most of John’s original audience heard this text read to them) knows. Mary of course. Then we have Mary and Mary. So, Mary, Mary, and Mary.

The text goes on to tell us about the death of Jesus. He’s given sour wine, then He parallels Elohim in Genesis, with, “It is finished.” At this moment, Jesus gives up His Spirit.

Everyone is in a hurry to bring him down from the cross before the Sabbath or they would have to leave the bodies on the cross for a whole day cuz silly reasons. To double check to make sure Jesus was dead, they pierce his side, and out of him flows blood and water. He was quite dead.

Then we come to the story of Jesus’ burial.

John 19.38-42
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body.
39 Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

We’re reading through John and we hear Mary, Mary, Mary, there is a ten verse depiction of Jesus’ death, and after we come immediately to Joseph. Mary, Mary, Mary… Joseph. “Mary” is fresh in reader’s minds, and then “Joseph.” What is commonly associated with these two names in close proximity to one another? Jesus’ birth. I think John wants us to have the story of His birth in mind right now. Given that both of these names are common, it is perfectly plausible their usage is purely coincidental. I would tend toward calling it a coincidence, except for other elements of the text.

Because of what we see in the rest of this gospel, we know John is a well thought out writer who is very deliberate about what he says. Rarely, if ever, does he provide specific details without reason. He tells us Jesus is going to be laid in a tomb, a new tomb. No one had ever been laid in it. Just like the Virgin Mary when she gave birth to Jesus (Pun not intended in the Greek). It’s a virgin tomb.

Here’s the kicker of the passage, and perhaps the most important reason for seeing this part of John as a sort of birth narrative. John tells us Nicodemus is there. Nicodemus is here to both foreshadow what is about to happen and to provide a theological explanation of what does happen. No other gospel tells us about him. Not only that, John also happens to specifically point us to the first meeting Nicodemus had with Jesus. The importance of referencing Nicodemus is found in this conversation.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night to get some questions answered. We pick up this iconic conversation in John 3.2

this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Jesus continues on in the conversation to frame this new birth as a “heavenly thing” and as what brings the “life of the age (of the kingdom of God)” to the reborn. He also talks about himself being raised up as the means by which the people of God will receive the salvation from death to receive the life he speaks about in this passage.

With this background in mind we come to the resurrection in John 20, the climactic moment of the author’s birth narrative. In this chapter, Mary goes to Jesus’ virgin tomb and finds it empty. Later she is the first to see the risen Jesus whom she mistakenly believes to be the gardener.

John’s reference to the story of Nicodemus provides one lens through which we are to view Jesus’ resurrection. It is the new spiritual birth which allows the reborn to see the kingdom of God. What was confusing in John 3 has now become quite clear. No, it’s not about climbing back into the mother’s womb. Other than being impossible, that would simply result in another birth of the flesh. This is a birth of a different sort.

The gestation process of the new birth takes place in a tomb. The precursor to a birth of the spirit is a death to the old fleshly ways of law, sin, division, centralized religious control, and the like. Jesus’ death to sin on the cross was his conception and the resurrection with a new, imperishable body is his birth. Jesus was born again with a body fit to see and experience the kingdom of God.

The resurrected Jesus in the garden is the new Adam, the first of humanity to experience both a birth of water and one of spirit. Jesus lovers are to follow him into the tomb that they might also be born, “not of [blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1.13). As revealed in the conversation with Nicodemus, it is the raising up of Jesus like the serpent which enables us to share with Jesus in this spiritual rebirth through death and resurrection – experiencing the life of the age in the present as we await the fullness of this life in the future.

*As a pertinent post-script, Jesus frames his death and resurrection as a birth story in John 16.20-22 as well.

Jeremiah 31: What’s In A Name?

March 9, 2017 Leave a comment

Reading chapter 31, a message from God to his conquered people who have been exiled to a foreign land, I noticed something new . The author repeatedly uses a unique name which I didn’t recall seeing so often during read throughs of previous chapters. “Ephraim,” the name for one of the tribes of Israel, is scattered throughout this passage. Here are its uses.

31.6
“For there will be a day when watchmen

On the hills of Ephraim call out,

‘Arise, and let us go up to Zion,

To the Lord our God.’”

31.9
“With weeping they will come,

And by supplication I will lead them;

I will make them walk by streams of waters,

On a straight path in which they will not stumble;

For I am a father to Israel,

And Ephraim is My firstborn.”

31.17-20
“There is hope for your future,” declares the Lord,
“And your children will return to their own territory.
18 “I have surely heard Ephraim grieving,
‘You have chastised me, and I was chastised,
Like an untrained calf;
Bring me back that I may be restored,
For You are the Lord my God.
19 ‘For after I turned back, I repented;
And after I was instructed, I smote on my thigh;
I was ashamed and also humiliated
Because I bore the reproach of my youth.’
20 “Is Ephraim My dear son?
Is he a delightful child?
Indeed, as often as I have spoken against him,
I certainly still remember him;
Therefore My heart yearns for him;
I will surely have mercy on him,” declares the Lord.

In the book of Jeremiah, the largest book in the Bible, there are seven uses of the word, “Ephraim.” Four of them are found in this one chapter. Only in this chapter is Ephraim referred to directly as an individual. All other uses are descriptive (hills of Ephraim, offspring of Ephraim). The frequency and uniqueness of the use of “Ephraim” here is a good indicator of a deliberate literary move.

After noticing this, I did some “research” (that’s a generous term for my brief internet search), on why. The first reason which came up explains the use of the term Ephraim at the outer layer of meaning. Ephraim was the strongest tribe of those which formed the northern kingdom of Israel, and thus using the name was shorthand for referring to all these tribes. I believe it safe to say the author intended to include all these tribes  when referring to Ephraim. However, it should be pointed out, there are already well established terms for distinguishing the northern from the southern kingdoms, Israel and Judah, respectively. This explanation doesn’t quite explain the why.

A few other people pointed out Ephraim is the second son of Joseph who was the second to last son of Israel (who also, as long as we’re going through this list, was the last born of Isaac who was the second born son of Abraham). These are those who were the chosen sons through whom God’s people would descend. In the ancient near east, the standard was for the firstborn son to receive the inheritance. God’s manner of choosing who would inherit his kingdom was different, unexpected, and often included those who were overlooked by others, the weak, the humble.

The implications of this are at least twofold. By focusing on Ephraim, the last born of all the patriarchs of the Israelite tribes, God is pointing out his love for the lowliest in society and his intention to elevate their status and do great things to them and through them. Certainly exiled Israel can identify with those in the lowest position at this time. This also hints at the gentiles, the latter born group of people, entrances into the kingdom of God with as much status as God’s firstborn, through the new covenant referred to in this chapter.

I will suggest it serves another purpose in the text. Full disclosure, I have a four month old son named Ephraim. So, I’m definitely inclined to pay more attention to his name than most. Conveniently, I also know what the Hebrew word Ephraim means in English. It means “fruitful.” Before we get into the implications of this, here’s why Joseph chose this name for his son.

Joseph entered Egypt as a slave, become a prisoner, and then the second most powerful man in the entire nation. He was forcibly extracted from his life and family and brought to Egypt against his will, and yet God still used him and gave him good things. In this context, when Joseph has his second son, he says they will name him ‘Ephraim, “For,” he said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”’

Egypt was not a place where God blessed Joseph only, but where he blessed all of the people of Israel for centuries. This foreign nation was where a small immediate family grew into a nation of people. And eventually, when this nation within Egypt were made into slaves, YHWH brought them out and blessed them elsewhere.

Jeremiah’s use of “Ephraim” should not only cause the reader to think “fruitful,” but also to think of the story of Ephraim’s naming. God has a history of making his people fruitful. He even does so when they are in a foreign land. He even does so when they were forced to come to the foreign land against their will. “Ephraim,” in a word, tells a story of hope, of God’s faithfulness to his people even when they are brought by their oppressors into a land of affliction. He has provided fruitfulness before in a similar context, he will do so again. YHWH is assuring Israel that despite their circumstances they are still his fruitful firstborn.

The hope God communicates, hope for freedom, hope for a renewed relationship, hope for future safety, brought about by a moment of complete forgiveness, is best summed up in 31.31-34.

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Man, Woman, and Authority

February 3, 2017 Leave a comment

From another writing project in which I deal with a handful of arguments for male authority over women from this text:

Genesis 2.18-23

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
   And flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
  because she was taken out of Man.”

Sometimes interpreters will use Genesis 2 to argue for men’s position over women in the hierarchy of Creation. The attempt to demonstrate this comes from a flawed understanding of the purpose of this chapter and an ignorance of Genesis 1. God has already outlined the hierarchy of Creation in Genesis 1. This chapter is not designed to speak to the issue.

Still, there are some who use chapter 2 to posit male authority over females. These arguments which place men over women are common enough it is worth the time to address some of them directly.

In Genesis 1, it looks like male and female were created at the same time. However, in chapter 2 Adam was created before Eve. As one who has been alive in the world for longer, it would make sense for Adam, with his more expansive knowledge of the world, to have a position of authority over her. God deliberately created man first because He wanted men to always have a position of leadership over women.

The main problem with this conclusion is its presumptiveness. There’s no reason in the text to assume being made first put one in a position over others. In fact, were one going to use the order of creation as a way to figure out God’s original design for hierarchy, the exact opposite would have to be concluded. We already know humans are over the rest of creation and humans were created last. The creatures with the highest authority are those created later. If woman was created last of all, then God must want her to have dominion over everything which came before, including man.

Eve is called Adam’s “helper.”  When the ESV (and many other translations) use the word “helper” to describe Eve’s relationship to Adam, they are not intending to communicate the idea of some sort of hierarchy. When modern readers perceive Eve to be Adam’s subordinate because of the use of the term helper, they are reading their experiences into the text.

The assumption of some readers that to call someone a “helper” is to subordinate them is not without reason in our modern context. It is common in the work environment to refer to less skilled people as a “helper.” Children who aid in cleanup or who are being kind to younger children are also called “helpers.” A helper is  someone who is there to be of assistance to the person who is in charge. We often use “helper” to refer to someone who is in a position of subordination.

The word for helper in the Hebrew text carries no such connotations. The Hebrew word for helper is Ezer. This word is most often applied to God. God helps humanity out sometimes, this certainly doesn’t make him a subordinate. Using similarly shallow arguments to those seeking to prove patriarchy, it would be very easy to conclude Eve must be Adam’s superior, since the same term applied to her is also applied to God. The text is not trying to say anything about a hierarchy at all.

The process of Eve’s creation is another event some use to conclude that God designed men to be in a position over women. Adam slept and then God used his rib to create Eve. She is a part of Adam’s body. Adam is the originator of Eve.

Only a small logical step is required to propose that Adam has rightful authority of Eve. She owes her very existence to him. He owned the rib from which woman was made, so he should have some continuing rights of ownership. Adam obviously has authority over his own body and Eve is simply a separated extension of his body. As one created from someone else, it is reasonable to conclude Adam is above Eve in the hierarchy of creation.

Yet, we find ourselves only able to use these verses to justify a hierarchy between man and woman if we ignore the preceding text. Adam wasn’t created out of thin air either. He originated from another substance – dirt. Is dirt over man in the hierarchy? Quite the opposite, the earth is the very thing over which man is to rule. In the interest of a consistent application of the hierarchal hermenuetic, if man was created from the substance over which he had dominion, then it must be that woman is supposed to have dominion over man.
Or perhaps interpreting Genesis 2 as if it is trying to tell us something about an authority difference between men and women is the wrong way of reading it altogether.

Categories: Miscellaneous
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