The Cutting Room Floor – Genesis

At Harrisburg UMC, we are currently studying the “big picture” of the Old Testament in our Journey Through the Old Testament series.  In this study, we are covering anywhere from 1 to 4 books each week.  Given the format of this study, there are a LOT of things that we won’t have the time to discuss.  This series of posts will cover a few of those interesting stories, passages, and people that don’t make their way into the lesson plan.  

Genesis is a rich and complex work that would take many months of study if we were looking to do a verse-by-verse study.  In the context of our current study, there are a lot of stories, people, and details that we don’t have the time to discuss in class.  So, there’s definitely a lot to choose from! 

Here are four things from Genesis that I find fascinating that didn’t make it into this weeks’ lesson:

image-question5-large1. In ____ beginning… – 1:1

Since the word “genesis” means “beginning”, we’ll start in the most logical place, which is (of course) the beginning.  The first words of Scripture, as famous as any words in the Bible, are typically translated from Hebrew into English as “in the beginning”.  That little definite article is very important.  And since it’s absent in the first word of Scripture, it becomes even more important.  The first word of the Hebrew Bible is berasheet.  The “be-” is a prefix that means “in” and rasheet means “beginning”.  The definite article (“the”) is indicated in Hebrew by the prefix “ha-“, so we would expect to read beharasheet in verse 1, but that’s not the case.   There are some Biblical scholars that argue that the definite article “the” should be assumed.  While they may be correct, it’s still interesting to think about how much difference it makes to read “in a beginning” at the start of the Bible.  How many beginnings have there been? 

2. The Tower of Babel 

On last week’s handout, I originally included this dense and mysterious little story in the reading list for Genesis and then deleted it when I decided that we weren’t going to cover it during this week’s lesson.  Actually, pretty much everything in chapters 1-11 seems somewhat mysterious, as if we’re trying to look at these things through some kind of primordial mist.  There’s a lot going on in this relatively short passage: the effects of human pride, the potential dangers of technological advancement, and the impact of an inability to communicate.  My favorite thing about this story is that it has a sequel – the day of Pentecost, recorded in Acts 2.  Through the Holy Spirit, communication and understanding become possible, bringing together people who were once scattered.

Melchizedek is not impressed.

Melchizedek is not impressed.

3. Melchizedek Blesses Abram 

There is a shift beginning in chapter 12 – things get a little less weird and we start an extended narrative about Abram/Abraham.  We see some elements that perhaps make a little more sense to us: more details about family life, little snippets of political intrigue, recognizable people.  Even so, there are still events and details that are shrouded in mystery, such as Abram’s encounter with King Melchizedek in Genesis 14.  Here’s the quick background: in the first part of the chapter, Abram saves Lot from a group of kings with really awesome names: Tidal, Amraphel, Arioch, and (best of all) Chedorlaomer.  These four defeat five other kings and sweep through Sodom, collecting the spoils of their victory, including Abraham’s nephew Lot.  To celebrate, there is a feast and apparently the King of Salem (Jerusalem, perhaps?) was chosen to bring bread and wine to the party.  Genesis 14:18 says that Melchizedek was a “priest of God Most High” (in Hebrew, El Elyon).  The name “Melchizedek” means either “my king is righteousness” or “king of righteousness”.  He blesses Abram and then Abram gives one-tenth of “everything” (Genesis doesn’t explain what “everything” is referring to – spoils?  Abram’s possessions?).  The interesting thing here is that there is no “official” Hebrew religion at this point – for what religion was Melchizedek a high priest?  OT scholars think that it was possibly the Jebusites, who occupied Jerusalem before the Hebrews.  Also, it’s kind of odd to see connections to communion and tithing this early in Genesis.  Melchizedek shows up again in Psalm 110 and several times in Hebrews in the New Testament (5:6 and chapter 7). 

4. Jacob Wrestles…someone (God? An angel?) 

This story did actually make the class reading list and I’ll also be referring to it during the lesson.  The reason it’s here is because this is on the short list of my favorite Bible stories.  This story is deeply resonant and rich with meaning.  This story functions metaphorically on several levels:

  • The wrestling match is something like a rite of passage, a “crossing over” in which Jacob leaves his troubled past behind and begins a new phase of his life.  This is best represented by the first part of verse 31: “The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel…”  This experience is a turning point in Jacob’s life.
  • If we want to read the story from a more psychological point of view, the encounter represents Jacob’s internal struggle.  Thus far, Jacob has not done much to warrant praise or trust.  Right before this story, he sends a large number of gifts to Esau in an attempt to counteract any lingering resentment on Esau’s part.  The past does tend to catch up with us and this story might represent Jacob being confronted with his own deceit and betrayals.  It also makes a nice companion piece to Romans 7:14-8:1
  • This story can also represent the very human struggle that we have with God.  So many times, God’s face is obscured and we can’t seem to get a good grip.  We also cry out for blessing and we want to know the name of the God with Whom we are struggling. 
  • The “man” (an angel?  God?  The text is not clear on the identity of this figure) changes Jacob’s name to “Israel”, which means “struggles with God”.  This will come to be the name of Jacob/Israel’s descendants and there’s really no other name that’s more fitting for the people who will continually struggle with God, with one another, and with other nations throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.  This attribute of Israel does not belong to Israel exclusively.  Israel’s inability to be faithful and to respond to God’s love is a universal problem, not simply a problem reserved for the Israelites. 

Next week, we’ll be looking at Exodus…until then, have a great week!

Grace and Peace,

Wes

If you’re interested in joining the conversation on Facebook, check out the Harrisburg UMC Bible Study Group.  

Advertisements

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Florida Conference (@FLUMC)
    Sep 11, 2014 @ 13:01:13

    This series looks great! Have fun with your study group. I hope you’re all learning a lot and having great discussions.

    Reply

  2. Allie Newsom
    Sep 19, 2014 @ 04:55:55

    How interesting. I have begun a 30 day devotion and today’s was about Jacob wrestling. I am pleasantly surprised to find this because I usually go online after reading the devotion and journaling to find a deeper interpretation or different interpretation than I felt like I got and I couldn’t find one that spoke to me. I only stumbled on this after looking for information for the iBelong Brochure. Definitely feel like God kinda led me to find this…

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: