December 1, 2010: We continued our march through the first 11 chapters of Genesis. We reminded ourselves that the history recorded in Genesis is not like the history in our textbooks. The primeval history in Genesis teaches more about relationships and how things hold together than it does about a factual accounting of an event. We looked at the story of Cain and Abel and the origin of jealousy.
The alienation from God that we first saw in the garden of Eden gets much greater in this story. It seems that with each new generation, the effects of the fall from paradise grow more disturbing. The sin grows and grows until it breaks out in the terrible crime of fratricide. We noted that it seemed as though God was “setting up” Cain in preferring one offering over the other. But, God did not reject Cain, he rejected his offering that did not seem as choice as did Abel’s. Abel gave the firstborn kid of his flock, while Cain offered some fruit of the ground. Was Cain’s offering the leftovers, while Abel’s was the first fruits?
The two sections of 4:17-26 and 5:1-32 represent different genealogies, written by different Bible editors. The first section includes Cain, while the second skips Cain and Abel and moves from Adam to Adam’s next son, Seth. The second list also extends to Noah. We noted that the lengthy lives of these ancestors is most likely a literary device to indicate that a great distance separates our world of experience from that of the story itself.
We then reviewed the story of the flood and noted its similarity to the Babylonian flood epic Gilgamesh. The tower of Babel shows us that sin did not disappear with the flood. The human race prided itself on its own glory and rebelled against God by building a grand tower. God punishes human pride by scattering the nations and scrambling language to forestall more such grand schemes. Then chpater 11 concludes with the genealogy of Abraham and we then open the next unit of the patriarchs…which we take up in January.
Here is the final shape of Genesis 1-11
1. the goodness of creation and God’s blessing of human life
2. the history of ever increasing sin: rebellion in the garden, murder in the first family, corruption of human society by marriage with angels (Gen 6:1-14)
3. God’s major punishment of all humanity by the flood
4. divine renewal of creation and blessing to Noah
5. persistence of human sin and rebellion in building the tower of Babel
6. choice of Abraham to bring the blessing to all