Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will serve as signs for festivals and for days and years.
– Genesis 1:14
Section One (unpacking the parsha):
This week’s Parsha Text contained: the Creation story, the Garden story, the Cain and Abel story, a genealogy, and God’s declaration for why He will wipe mankind from the face of the earth. Wowzer, maybe the convenience of a few verses wasn’t so bad 🙂 In the Midweek Reading Guide, and on Twitter this week, we highlighted some important questions and problems within our Parsha. These questions and problems should not deter us from the Text; instead, they should help us recognize something more is afoot.
In fact, there are so many problems arising in the Creation story that either the author is terrible at documenting how the world was formed or the author is trying to tell us something important about the beginning. I am keen on the latter. And, it just so happens, Textual evidence exists to believe in the Creator God without needing to take the 7 days of Creation literally (e.g. the Exodus saga). What then is the author doing with all these questions, problems, and patterns? Alas, inviting the audience to look deeper.
Over at Aleph Beta, they’ve recognized that people who are trying to understand God’s narrative might limit themselves to commentaries outside the Text. But, what if, Torah is often its own commentary?
“The Torah uses certain tools in order to actually embed meaning within its text, to teach us how we’re supposed to read it. This is one of the ways that the Torah packs a lot of meaning into a very short amount of space.” (Lech Lecha Parsha Guide)
What tool is the author using in the Creation story? A chiasm (see footnote #1).
How does a chiasm add meaning? A chiasm points us towards the main idea — at its center. In essence, a center of gravity, or an idea that everything revolves around.
The entire Creation story revolves around the Hebrew word mo’ad found in Genesis 1:14.(BEMA Podcast for details).
The main idea of the whole Creation story, the beginning of the entire narrative, is that God designed festivals for His creation. But why is that so important to hear in the beginning? Because Genesis 1 was first handed to a group of people who just left slavery in Egypt!
Have you ever wondered why God rests on day 7? Was He exhausted? Depleted of creative mojo?
In answering these question, we need to recognize something unique about day 7. One pattern noticed in the Creation story is the odd refrain “evening came, and then morning: the ___ day.” The author says this after every day, except day 7! As if the invitation on day 7 never ends. Maybe God rests because there is nothing more He can do. Maybe our God knows when to say enough. Maybe the author invites us to believe that God, from the beginning, has given us everything we need in this world — that He is not holding out on us.
And, maybe, God designed specific festivals for us as an intentional pause to remember and celebrate these truths.
If true, does this idea of trust play out in the next piece of Text — the Garden story?
Again, as alluded to on Twitter, the Garden story is complex. And, it all comes down to the temptation. Is the serpent asking woman what God really said or inviting woman to make a decision despite what God said? In Genesis 3:1, the Hebrew translates, “Even if God said,”. Which invokes new meaning to the serpent’s temptation.
The Hebrew suggests the serpent is inviting woman to make a decision not merely asking woman a question. What decision?
Woman, and man for that matter, had desires. They are animals after all. But, just prior to this God paraded all the wild animals, livestock, and birds of the sky before man. Why? So that man, on his own accord, would recognize he was different.
How is mankind different from every other animal? Mankind can communicate with God through language. Mankind can speak to God. Mankind can listen to God.
Even if God said, isn’t it still true that God put those desires in you. Yes. But, we can choose to listen to God’s voice instead of letting our desire go awry. We can choose to trust God is not holding out on us, rather than letting our desire rule us.
If true, does trust carry over into the next story — Cain and Abel?
We will never know why God had regard for Abel’s offering more than Cain’s, the Text does not tell us. We are told how Cain responds. He’s upset and downcast. Rightly so. His survival, as he might reason, hinges on God’s favor for the next harvest. But, it was Cain’s idea to bring offerings, not God’s. Cain recognizes the Creator God. However, his response tells me he thinks a poor showing changes God’s intent. Did it?
“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why are you downcast?’” (Genesis 4:6)
God seems to imply, “we’re still good Cain. Trust me Cain. I’m not going to hold out on you Cain.”
If true, does the struggle to trust continue?
The Parsha Text finishes with two huge declarations. First, Lamech prophesied that Noah will be the one to bring relief to the cursed land. How? How is it that Noah could possibly reverse the curse and get the ground to bear fruit again?
Rabbinic commentary says, because Noah will invent the plow.
That’s a stretch and the Text does not say that.
Agreed. Except, next week after the whole flood ordeal, the Text seems to insert out of nowhere that Noah is a man of the soil that knows how to plant a successful vineyard. Did Noah figure out how to cultivate soil?
The second declaration, God’s, might be borrowed. The folks at Aleph Beta point out the there are at least four parallels between Lamech’s declaration (Genesis 5:29) and God’s declaration (Genesis 6:6).
- Comfort or regret
- Deeds (work or make)
- Sadness (toil or grieve)
- Earth or land
And, they show up in the same order within each declaration. Coincidence?
God is deeply sad about the current state of mankind’s affairs, but why pattern the declaration for the flood after Lamech’s declaration?
Well, if mankind has continued to alienate themselves from God and God alienated mankind from land, wouldn’t the best response be to return to God and restore the relationship? To return and find comfort in God? Instead, Lamech’s declaration insinuates that mankind has found salvation in something other than God, an agricultural technology.
That doesn’t sound like trust. It sounds like taking control and rejoicing in the ability to do it without God.
Maybe festivals show up at the perfect time to remind us… God is our deliverer, provider, protector.
Section Two (connection to NT)*:
*Caveat: M.D. Goulder suggests the 1st century Torah cycle began in the month of Nisan (April). Today, the cycle begins in Tishri (October). This is important because Goulder has Luke’s gospel beginning just after the Passover festival which corresponds to the fifth week of the Torah cycle. The Shuvah Project is beginning with Genesis 1, not Luke 1.
The two stories that bookend our section of Text in Luke are about contributing to a mission. On the front end, a Q&A on paying taxes to Rome (Luke 20:20-25). On the back-end, a real-life example of tithing (Luke 21:1-4). The three other stories in between are about a God of the living, whether Jesus is the son of David, and a public service announcement regarding the scribes.
If Jesus is suggesting He is the son of the Father, then maybe Jesus is making the case that His mission is that of His heavenly Father, not earthly father or lineage. In that day and age, sons follow in father’s footsteps. They take on the family trade or business. It seems Jesus isn’t about taking on David’s business, but about taking on God’s business (see footnote #2).
So, where did God’s business start? As if anticipating that question, the writer of Luke makes sure the reader has Jesus’ words that “the Lord [is] the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Luke 20:37). A huge hint that the mission God started back in Genesis is not over and must continue.
But, in the Luke Text, we still aren’t told what God’s business is. In fact, at the onset, Jesus only says to give back to God what is God’s. He doesn’t tell us what that is. If this section of Luke connects to our Torah portion I think we get a glimpse of what Jesus is inferring; especially, when also connected to Isaiah 1.
What is God’s? Our trust. Trust that He is our comfort. Trust that He is our provider. Trust that He is our security. We are to trust God with our everything. Yes, like the widow 😉 What does it look like to contribute to this mission of God? Give Him your whole being, not just your denarius.
When we embrace the divine, our days, our sabbaths, and our feasts no longer focus on being self-sufficient — how much we can get, store up, and secure for our future. Instead, they return to putting the world back together by “blessing the oppressed, defending the fatherless, and pleading for the widow (Isaiah 1:17).”
Naturally, then, the writer of Luke finishes the section with two references to a widow. First, using Jesus’ words that scribes “devour widows houses”. Second, with contrasting the widow’s tithe. The Greek suggests that it was a certain poor widow. As if to clue us in that this isn’t a stranger, but someone who is continually with them. I imagine this is a punch-to-the-gut reminder that the tithe, in part, is designed to redistribute wealth and is somehow failing to do so in this community. And, as we’ll come to see, a reminder of our individual responsibility to bring the poor and cast out into our homes (e.g. Lazarus). The implications continue as the Text does not say the amount the rich are giving (seems less concerned that they are giving their 10%), but tells us with detail what the poor widow has given. As if the clarity of her giving should wake the reader up to how poor she is. More so, wake the listeners up to the big picture — it’s not about the tithe!
Does giving out of surplus require any trust?
Section Three (missing the mark):
God’s story does not start in the Garden. The Garden is the first example we get of how real the struggle is, and will continue to be, to trust that God is not holding out on us.
Yet, when pastors begin the story in the Garden we end up with statements like this:
“God allows the test, but the sin in our heart creates the temptation.”
As detailed above, the Garden story invites so much more than the notion that mankind is full of sin. In fact, the word for sin does not even show up in the Garden. Not once!
The first time the word sin shows up is in the Cain and Abel story. Which is important because it seems the author is less concerned with telling us how disobedient and sinful mankind is in the Garden, than in presenting the struggle to trust. Next, the author invites us to think about how we will respond if we do mistrust.
Cain is the prime example (as detailed above). In fact, God continues, if you don’t trust that we’re still good,
“sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).
Whoa! What God says sounds like the rabbinic wisdom we unpacked above. The temptation was to act like every other animal, on desire alone. But God, just like in the Garden, reminds Cain that he is different and can choose to rule over desire. Cain, like us, can act on the word of God.
Instead of the above statement, what if pastors communicated what the Text invites. Mankind is not made with sin inside nor is mankind inherently evil. Rather, our chunk of Text invites two questions:
- Will you trust?
- When you mistrust will you run to God or from God?
How we approach the second question is often negatively influenced by pastors. Our Text tells us that alienation from God was mankind’s choice. Man and woman hid from God. It is Cain who decides he should be hidden from God’s face. God’s curse, on the other hand, is alienation from Land.
The tragedy of the Garden story is not that it happened and we are forever unworthy of God’s presence. The tragedy is that it still happens in our lives every single day.
Section Four (real-world applications):
I’m just going to come out and say it… Christmas isn’t in the bible. Advent isn’t in the bible. Lent isn’t in the bible. St. Patrick’s day isn’t in the bible. And neither is Hanukkah (see footnote #3).
Where as, the Festival of Booths, (i.e. Sukkot) is. And, the first chapter God gives His people revolves around an invitation to join God in the festivals He designed.
The Jewish people have had to, and some still do, intentionally take Federally unrecognized days off from work to faithfully participate in the festivals and celebrations God designed. How about that for commitment? To use your vacation days, not for a trip to Disney World, but so that you could journey to the desert with your community and faithfully worship God for several days (did you catch the allusion to the whole Exodus debacle?). Unfortunately, as Goulder points out, Gentiles (the newest members of God’s family) decided all these days away from work were not convenient and were definitely not conducive to production.
“As the Church became increasingly Gentile, the hold of the Jewish year naturally relaxed. We should not really have expected Lucan Christians to go eight days running to celebrate Sukkot; nor perhaps did they keep the Jewish New Year if it fell on a week day, since they had a secular New Year of their own. Luke’s swift succession of Tishri festival readings appears to indicate what we should in any case have tended to believe: that Ro’sh Hashshanah became New Year Sunday, that Yom Kippur became Atonement Sunday, and that Tabernacles became Harvest Sunday.” (The Evangelists’ Calendar, p. 87)
God’s design was truncated for convenience. Yet, each of these festivals are pertinent to remembering and trusting the story God is authoring. God began and designed the narrative to have rhythms marked with clear celebrations that disrupt secular life.
I’m not suggesting you have to return to practicing the festivals in the Text. But, that word mo’ad we discussed earlier also translates as tent of meeting — the place where Moses went to meet God face-to-face. In fact, if you step into the Sukkot experience you may walk away deeply appreciative that God designed this opportunity for you to meet Him.
Because Sukkot commemorates a tremendous act of faith (Exodus 12:37-40; Leviticus 23:39-43: Jeremiah 2:2). The kind of faith it takes to put your most basic needs, food and shelter, into the hands of the divine. Sukkot commemorates the first night in the wilderness post-Exodus — the night God’s people gave Him the gift of trust.
Next Week Readings: Genesis 6:9-11:32 and Luke 21:5-21:38
- For more details about chiastic structure head directly to Aleph Beta where they provide a Manhattan real estate analogy to help explain this idea, the BEMA Podcast, or just try google.
- It’s important to recognize the Text is explicit in telling us that David is one of the few characters that is a “man after (God’s) own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). In fact, Paul confirms this quoting directly from 1 Samuel: After removing (Saul), He raised up David as their king and testified about him: ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man loyal to Me, who will carry out all My will ’(Acts 13:22). But, David, like mankind in our Torah portion, faces the same struggles to trust.
- Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s something powerful about the Advent and Lenten seasons of reflection and anticipation. Moreover, I appreciate how Shane Claiborne reclaims the holidays by sharing the life and story of the Saints. But, God already designed festivals to reflect, to anticipate, and to experience freedom.
- “It’s at that moment when our home is our fortress and we know exactly where our next meal will come from that Sukkot is needed most. When we are most susceptible to the belief we are self-sufficient God invites us back to remember the vulnerability. An active and intentional choice to put ourselves back into the Creators protection, because real security always comes from God.” -Aleph Beta
6 thoughts on “The Shuvah Project #3 — In the beginning”
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