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Genesis Overview

Posted by Gary Labels: ,

So, tonight I start my study of the Pentateuch, or first five books of the Bible. Naturally, I'm going to start with the first three chapters together as the story of creation and fall. That'll probably span several posts just by itself.

People place a whole lot of emphasis on Gen 1-2 as the origin of humanity. Indeed, the name Genesis means "beginning" or "birth." But out of 50 chapters, only 2 are given to the beginning of the universe. It's not the primary focus of the book at all.

The simplest outline we could give this book is:
I. Primeval history (chs. 1-11)
-A. The Creation (chs. 1-2)
-B. The Fall (chs. 3-11)
--1. The cause (ch. 3)
--2. The effects (chs. 4-11)
II. Patriarchal history (chs. 12-50)
-A. Abraham (chs. 12-25)
-B. Jacob (chs. 26-36)
-C. Joseph (chs. 37-50)

This is very simple and while it reflects the content of the book, it doesn't indicate any relationship between sections. Outlined above is a topical outline that we could force onto the text. This outline shouldn't be completely ignored, but it's not the only one to look to. Instead of looking at this as if it needs one definitive outline, let us say that the above outline is good from a topical perspective.

On the other hand, we can also outline the book structurally. This means that we look at the natural contours of the book from how the book divides itself.

0. The story of creation (1:1-2:3)
1. The generations of the heavens and the earth (2:4-4:26)
2. The generations of Adam (5:1-6:8)
3. The generations of Noah (6:9-9:29)
4. The generations of the sons of Noah (10:1-11:9)
5. The generations of Shem (11:10-26)
6. The generations of Terah (11:27-25:11)
7. The generations of Ishmael (25:12-18)
8. The generations of Isaac (25:19-35:29)
9. The generations of Esau (36:1-37:1)
10. The generations of Jacob (37:2-50:26)

With this structural outline, the story of creation is an introduction to the book as a whole, while the main body contains ten sections. Each section is begun by the phrase "these are the generations of...," or alternately translated, "this is the account of..." Personally I prefer that alternate translation because it makes more sense. However, it is actually an account of the generations, like a genealogy. What each section does is this: it tells you what happened after that main character. So, "the generations/account of Adam" tells you about the progeny of Adam, who was the main character of the previous section.

The first five of these sections occur within the "Primeval history" of the topical outline, while the last five divide the Patriarchal history. So, both of these outlines have the same midpoint. The midpoint of these outlines is the character of Abraham. Although he does not get a "generations of Abraham," he is the hinge around which the book turns, and he is the main human character of the book. He is the firstborn of the last person mentioned in the genealogy at the end of section 5 and then he plays the main human role in section 6. Abraham is the character who bridges between primeval history (origin of nations and the earth) and patriarchal history (origin of God's chosen nation).

The ten sections of the main body move through time like a stream, from cause to effect and from ancestor to progeny. Sometimes this is accomplished by a narrative that focuses on the children/effects of the main character (2, 4, 7, 9, 11) and sometimes by simply a quick genealogy to move things along (3, 5, 6, 8, 10). This arrangement in the text itself indicates that it is a chronicle of something ongoing. It's not about Adam or Abraham or Jacob or Joseph. It's about Someone Else, and how this Somebody affected Adam and Abraham and Jacob and Joseph. Genesis doesn't chronicle humanity, but rather it chronicles God and His promises given to Abraham. Just like a gem with many facets, Genesis can be seen through both of these outlines.

*My thanks to Hamilton for both outlines.
Genesis 1: A Wonderful Campfire Story
Genesis 2: The Finishing Touch
Genesis 1-2: Reflections on God
Genesis 3: The Day the Harmony Died
Genesis 4a: The Deathblow
Genesis 4b-5: Humanity Chooses Two Ways
Genesis 12: A(nother) New Hope
Genesis 13: Separation Anxiety
Genesis 14: The Empire Strikes Back
Genesis 15: Covenant (Part I)
Genesis 16: Covenant (Interlude with Hagar)

New Year's Goals

Posted by Gary

My goals for this upcoming year:
1. Pray more - come up with a daily prayer routine which emphasizes thanksgiving and praise at least as much as petition.
2. Seek recovery by any means available.
3. Daily exercise regimen. Probably going to start with alternating between sit-ups and push-ups. Also focusing on eating less pizza, even if it is free.
4. Restore broken friendships.
5. Overcome three bad habits.
6. Go through the Pentateuch thoroughly. Perhaps, then, Psalms.
7. Gain a savings of at least $1,000 to be saved for emergencies.
8. Gain more social connections.
9. Go through the Pentateuch thoroughly.
10. Fully learn the vocabulary for Tobit. Afterward, maybe restart Jeremiah (in Greek).
11. Relearn Hebrew.

As you can see, academics are not going to be my primary focus -- for once. I don't have to completely succeed in all of these to be satisfied at the end of the year -- I'm setting high, longer-term goals on purpose. Most of these things will take more than a year, I suspect, but I expect to make good progress toward each goal.


Posted by Gary Labels:

My name is Gary, and I am here today to talk about my addiction. For years, I've struggled with this very powerful drug called "sin."

What is it? Sin is a poison that infects the core of our being and spreads from one part of our lives to another part (and is highly contagious), much like leprosy. Many people go through life thinking they are good people. They don't kill anyone, and they don't go out of their way to hurt people. That's good - indeed it is. But goodness is not the point. No amount of goodness will remove the taint - it will only dilute it (and give it more room to spread!). If your good deeds are a partway full glass of water, then sin is just one small drop of poison. Do you think doing good deeds will erase the contamination? Fill the glass more full with water, and the poison is still there.

Where does it come from? Sin comes from whatever it is that tempts humanity to follow ways other than God's. Whether you call that "Satan" as a personal demonic entity or as some metaphor for a flaw in our nature is up to you - it's not my point here. Sin is a vicious spider waiting in ambush, six opaque black eyes shining with a cold bloodlust whenever her favorite prey - a human being - comes by. Two wicked fangs chitter excitedly, dripping venom in anticipation of the hoped-for meal. Her web is not always clear - were it easily seen, none would enter! Truthfully, her web can only be seen when the Light shines from just the right angle.

Her legs keep steady on her web, hoping for a vibration to tell her that dinner has come. She capitalizes on our weaknesses and our honest, heart-felt pain. All it takes is for a beautiful butterfly to be ensnared is a minor diversion - a moment's carelessness. It struggles in the web and panics, thrashing wildly. Its desperation heightens into panic as its vain attempts to escape only lead to further entanglement. Slinking in for the kill, she does not hurry. The prey will wear itself out. She relishes seeing the panic, anger, confusion, and fear turn to hopeless resignation. With sadistic glee, she stalks in, wraps her legs around the beautiful, wonderful butterfly, and sinks her fangs fiercely into the prey, then backs off again to admire her handiwork.

It burns in the hapless creature's veins. It labors for breath, its mind becomes addled as the body shuts down. As the poison's infection spreads, the butterfly becomes desensitized to it - full anesthesia. When the initial poison sets in, Sin finally comes for the feast. The poison breaks down the butterfly from the inside, turning it into a liquid for the spider to drink greedily. The butterfly is nothing more than an empty soulless shell. Trash to be discarded and forgotten.

This is what sin does to us. It ensnares us in our anger, our guilt, our shame, our discomfort, our pride, our covetous desires. Even the natural desires for social and intimate company are not overlooked, nor is even the hunger for food. Any of these surfaces can have a vicious web lying in wait. Cruel manipulation of your pain is its greatest pleasure, entangling you further and further, rendering you unable to even move. Then the true infection comes, desensitizing you and destroying you from the inside. YOU ARE A TOY. YOU ARE A MEAL.

What is the allure? What draws us to it? All it takes to ensnare is the right carrot on a string - some false hope or satisfaction. Do you enjoy your longneck bottle? Little do you know that it, in truth, will consume you. You find it amusing that you feel pleasant and can't quite keep your balance without serious effort. With your inhibitions gone, you can relax. People say you're fun to be around! You would never dance or sing until you've loosened up. You're too nervous to talk to girls, so you "strap your courage on." Quite insidious, this lure pulls your in a little at a time. Maybe you don't even struggle when the first web strands, strong as steel and sticky as glue, take hold of you. Whether you struggle or not, you fall further into it. It will indeed leave you "wasted."

That gorgeous girl on your computer screen with the friendly smile, perfect teeth, and wonderful curves. You want to have her? She will have you - she is nothing but a beautiful ruse for a deadly black widow. She will steal your time in your most private moments, when you should be sleeping, reading, or praying. She will keep you in the shower for suspiciously long times. She will cause you pain in your heart that surpasses the pain that makes you wince when you put weight on your sore right wrist - the pain that reminds you of your weakness and shame. You'll be paranoid about letting anyone else use your computer, lest they see where you've been on your history/bookmarks. You want her to drink you dry? She will - she lives to devour your shame, your time and energy, and your innocence. You may never be able to be satisfied with a real woman again. Always thinking of her instead, somewhere in a dark corner of your heart. You want to love her, but you can't commit completely. You need to type that sermon - just like every Friday evening - but first you want to empty yourself so you can get those distracting sexual thoughts out of the way before you handle God's word.

You love your boyfriend so much - he makes you feel wonderful because he says he loves you and gives you butterflies. But he wants to do more than hold your hand, and... you're scared, but you love him. You open yourself to him - you trust him with your most precious gift. But he is sin's puppet, doing her bidding to lure you in with promises of making you feel very good and feel good about yourself. Promises of intimacy and post-climax contentment in the arms of a wonderful guy. That amazing bond you have with him is like nothing else. You want that mental connection, too. The feelings you have for him could just BURST out of you, you're so happy now! You look up at him in amazement for what he's doing to you. His eyes, however, never make contact with yours and he screams "f*** yeah!" to show his enjoyment. A part of you realizes that his feelings are purely superficial, but you fear to admit it. You banish the thoughts, lie back, and enjoy the ride in hopes to please him. You just want somebody to love you and treasure you. ...But he himself is already ensnared, and is nothing but a tool to bring you in, too. Sin will break your heart and suddenly rip away that beautiful feeling you have for him. The emptiness in your heart is colder than the deep void of space, and you shudder. What did you not give him? You gave him everything! ...Didn't you? So then why did he leave you all alone...?

You're in high school, a senior now. Your friends do things you wouldn't be comfortable with. When they pass the joint, everyone's looking at you. You're afraid to disappoint. Randy was just talking offhandedly about how much of a lamer his dad is for being against pot. You don't want to be a lamer, do you? Just one puff. You can take it. Then you find out that you are ensnared. If you aren't addicted to the pot, then you're addicted to the social acceptance. So, you come up with an excuse to not do it anymore and your friends are cool with it. Then you get pulled over by the cops, who search your car and find that your friend had a stash in his back pocket. BUSTED. Now you're in jail...

What can we do? Our first instinct is to struggle hard. We try to keep the bottle away. Get it out of the house. Pour it down the sink. We erase that folder on our computers. Well... most of it. If you absolutely HAVE TO, you might as well have a little left so you can do it without hurting your wrist or rubbing your skin raw, am I right? A legitimate health reason. You try to set boundaries with him, but the truth is you have no control in the relationship because you are one of many girls who can give him what he wants, but (you feel) he is the only guy who can love you. He has the power, and you will give in next time, too. You tell your friends that you don't mind if they smoke pot, but you won't. You still get the contact high, though.

Sin ruins us. We can't stop it. We can't stop ourselves. If it was a mere choice on our part, it would not be called an addiction. There are only two things that can save us: the Light that always shines, which lets us see the trap and avoid it. And if you get caught? A soul on fire for God will burn those cobwebs to embers and make their wicked weaver shriek as she runs for her life.

Sin will trap you. It will eat you. It will leave nothing left. You will not be what you once were.

It's happened to all of us, but there is HOPE! No matter what shame you have, no matter what wrong others shun you for, THERE IS HOPE. God will not despise anyone who seeks Him, regardless of their past. Pray. Talk openly about your issue with trustworthy friends. And ask God for the power to overcome and to be HEALED.

"And when you were dead in your sins and your transgressions, in which you once lived according to the custom of this world, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all also once conducted ourselves in the desires of our sinful nature, obeying the whims of the sinful nature and our rationalizations. And we were, by virtue of our wicked nature, on the fast track to hell just like everyone else.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of how MUCH He loves us -- and when we were dead in our transgressions -- God revived us with Christ (by grace you are saved), raised us with Christ, and appointed a place in the heavenly realms for us along with Christ. For it is by GRACE you are saved through faithfulness. And this wasn't YOUR faithfulness -- it is God's gift. Not because of any of our deeds, lest anyone boast. For we are HIS creation, made in Christ Jesus through HIS good works, which God provided in advance, so that by them we could live." ~Eph. 2:1-10


Posted by Gary Labels:

I was up tonight thinking about redemption. When our race was lost in darkness and we had turned our backs on God, he gave a lot for us. His sweat when he traveled across the terrain of Palestine on foot in those sandals they wore back then. Sand got between his toes and made his feet horribly stinky (and his toenails probably were not a pretty sight, either). His tears at Gethsemane, and on numerous other occasions. And of course his blood on the cross.

God could have said "damn you all" and just turned to his angels. Or he could have made a new Eden on Mars. But he didn't. It's so much easier to just move on with your life and pretend the person you have an issue with doesn't exist. That's what everyone out in the world does, and in our weakness sometimes we Christians too will imitate that.

But it's not what God did. Instead, he adopted human form. God changed a part of his own substance into the substance of his creation in order to save that creation. Not just did God give blood, sweat, and tears for us, but even to lower himself enough to HAVE flesh and blood is saying something.

What if you were a brilliant scientist and you created a bunch of sentient robots? Say they malfunctioned by being disobedient, and you wanted to hit the remote button that activates the self-destruct mechanism on all of them at once.

If for some reason beyond explanation you could change their programming by CUTTING OFF your arm and taking a cyborg graft, would you do it to save them? They are lesser beings - mere nuts and bolts. They wear and tear and require maintenance. Would you sacrifice part of your humanity for an incomparably lesser race that could simply be rebuilt from scratch? Would you make it so you required maintenance and a battery?

If you told your apprentices that you were going to take a metal arm graft, they'd object: "They're ONLY nuts and bolts!" Y'know, maybe some of God's angels said we were only flesh and blood. At one point, we were less than that even - just red dirt. God lowered himself by incorporating human nature into part of His being to save us when 99.9% of us didn't even care to ask for redemption.

The truth is, the creation cannot even hold a candle in comparison to its creator. Any robot we could make today is of very little worth compared to us ourselves. Inferior beings not even worthy to be called "alive." And if that is how far the gap is between us and OUR creations, think of how far we are from the dignity of our Creator! And yet He sacrificed Himself for us. He did not destroy us, but became one of us at the expense of His pride as an immaterial being above the need of sustenance. He did so much for us and loved us enough to incorporate us into His nature, though it was so far from His own.

I hope my 5:30 rambling is of some use to somebody. The point of this story is that God spared no possible expense in giving forgiveness and second chances to those who didn't even ask for it ahead of time. There are two ways I hope this will be applied:
1. I hope you'll see God in a clearer light as to why He did not consider it robbery (of His unique deity nature) [Phil 2:6, KJV] to take on our nature of flesh and blood. One more reason to appreciate and worship Him.
2. I hope, in your attempt to emulate His nature and "change your programming," you will have the same zeal and eagerness to patch things up with those who are at odds with you whenever you can, regardless of the reason you don't get along and not let sweat, tears, or even blood deter you from saving a friendship or family bond - or any lost soul.

The moment we walk away from redemption is the moment we deny the very principle by which we are saved.


Posted by Gary Labels:

[From two months ago on Facebook]
So, I was up all night again. It's time for another 5:30 rambling. Actually I started this at 5:15, but who's keeping count?

Tonight I thought about one of the crucial and unique aspects of Jesus' preaching: pacifism.

Now, some people may believe in a just war theory and treat war as a necessary (but undesirable) evil, but Jesus did not subscribe to that theory. When the Jews expected a person called Messiah to lead them into battle and destroy all the Gentiles to bring in a new age of peace for God's people, Jesus really didn't fit the bill. Instead, he came to suffer and die. This very thing is why Peter was rebuked "Get behind me, Satan!" Peter couldn't believe Jesus' prediction of his own death, and instead tried to explain to Jesus that the Messiah was supposed to be immortal (or at least not killable by man's hands).

Besides just the very purpose of His life, which is the strongest evidence of all for Jesus as a pacifist, the second strongest piece of evidence is in His teachings. Never does Jesus enforce the death penalty. The death penalty in the Old Testament, according to Jewish rabbis, was meant to say "your sin is great enough to deserve this. Repent and you will be given mercy." According to one scholar, a sanhedrin would be considered bloodthirsty if they enforced the death penalty once every seventy years. That's too much.

Jesus seems to follow that view by telling Peter to put the sword down and give the priest's slave his ear back. His great miracle is to command the waves and wind to be still. Zeus is credited for throwing lightning bolts - Jesus stopped the lightning.

This actually isn't what I wanted to write about. Here's where the thoughts of my heart tonight really open up: what is pacifism? It is more than simply refusing to shed human blood. To pacify (the verb that "pacifism" comes from) means to make something/someone at peace. It does not mean for you to just be at peace yourself, but to actively bring peace to an external situation.

Here is where Jesus' teachings really get hard to follow. When a brother is sinning against us, we're supposed to confront him about it in the least antagonizing way possible (Matt. 18:15). Even when we're hurt, we have to consider their feelings. And we have to try to make nice on more than one occasion before giving up on that person.

According to Matt. 5:23-26, we must settle matters with each other quickly before the problem escalates. There's so much contained in those three verses. How do you prevent unpeaceful actions such as lawsuits and murders from happening? By resolving the anger or hurt underlying the desire to harm somebody. That is how you make peace. And note also that, to Jesus, doing this takes priority over going to church and "going through the motions." Although the central point of this passage is "settle matters quickly to bring peace," I strongly believe that knowingly ignoring a conflict with a brother will cloud or taint our worship.

And finally: the beatitude does not go "blessed are those who stay at peace" but rather "those who make peace."

Pacifism is not a passive role. Jesus was the most active pacifist there is. It's about solving problems rather than just choosing not to make any problems yourself. It's about commanding storms to cease their rage. It's about commanding the water to yield to your feet and let you stand on it rather than pulling you down. It's about miraculous healings of people's afflictions. It's about the Spirit descending like a dove. It's about giving oneself up as a lamb.

Being a pacifist is the most active role somebody could ever take.