Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Genesis and Christmas

These are some half-formed, sometimes random, somewhat repetitive notes I made for the sermon prep study group at Cornerstone this week - enjoy!

Genesis 2-3: Israelites would have seen their own story here, the story of Genesis-II Kings (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings were written as a direct four-part sequel to the Pentateuch to form a single story ending with Israel and Judah’s exiles but with a note of hope for ultimate restoration).  Like Israel, Adam was formed in a deserted place (Genesis 2:4-7), brought into a new, lush land – a garden, where they would be with God and take care of the land (2:8-15).  But, like Adam, they disobeyed the commandment given to them directly by God and allow themselves to be led astray by the evil they have allowed to stay in the land and are subsequently cast out of the land, failing to find life and instead bringing on themselves curse and death (Genesis 3). 
Israel was to have been the new Adam, God’s “do-over”, the new representative and embodiment of humanity restored, who were to be the vessels to bring life and initiate the completion of God’s creation-plan as Adam should have done.  But like Adam (since they were in Adam themselves and hence suffered also from sin and death), they failed in their mission.  If Israel was to be restored from its curse, its exile, and if their mission to fulfill Adam’s mission was to be fulfilled, God would have to intervene himself.  As Adam grasped for autonomy – to know good and evil through experience of them and doing both rather than under God’s lordship and through his wise instruction – so Israel also sought freedom from God, only to end in slavery.  So Israel looked to God as Savior to save them from their state of exile/curse and thus to restore all of creation through this – Israel’s restoration would mean Adam’s!  This promise of restoration fills the Old Testament.  For example, Deuteronomy 30:1-10 (all quotes here from NIV):

30When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. The Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies who hate and persecute you. You will again obey the Lord and follow all his commands I am giving you today. Then the Lord your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors, 10 if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

The longing for restoration, for God to act as Savior, comes in many places (it also is partly captured in the first verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”).  Here are a few – Ezra 9:6b-9:

6b“I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens. 7 From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.
8 “But now, for a brief moment, the Lord our God has been gracious in leaving us a remnant and giving us a firm place[a] in his sanctuary, and so our God gives light to our eyes and a little relief in our bondage. 9 Though we are slaves, our God has not forsaken us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem.

Lamentations 5:

5 Remember, Lord, what has happened to us;
    look, and see our disgrace.
2 Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
    our homes to foreigners.
3 We have become fatherless,
    our mothers are widows.
4 We must buy the water we drink;
    our wood can be had only at a price.
5 Those who pursue us are at our heels;
    we are weary and find no rest.
6 We submitted to
Egypt and Assyria
    to get enough bread.
7 Our ancestors sinned and are no more,
    and we bear their punishment.
8 Slaves rule over us,
    and there is no one to free us from their hands.
9 We get our bread at the risk of our lives
    because of the sword in the desert.
10 Our skin is hot as an oven,
    feverish from hunger.
11 Women have been violated in
    and virgins in the towns of
12 Princes have been hung up by their hands;
    elders are shown no respect.
13 Young men toil at the millstones;
    boys stagger under loads of wood.
14 The elders are gone from the city gate;
    the young men have stopped their music.
15 Joy is gone from our hearts;
    our dancing has turned to mourning.
16 The crown has fallen from our head.
    Woe to us, for we have sinned!
17 Because of this our hearts are faint,
    because of these things our eyes grow dim
18 for
Mount Zion, which lies desolate,
    with jackals prowling over it.
19 You, Lord, reign forever;
    your throne endures from generation to generation.
20 Why do you always forget us?
    Why do you forsake us so long?
21 Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return;
    renew our days as of old
22 unless you have utterly rejected us
    and are angry with us beyond measure.

Daniel 9:1-19:

9 In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom— 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the Lord given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.
4 I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed:
“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.
7 “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. 8 We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. 9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.
“Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. 12 You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. 13 Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. 14 The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.
15 “Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.
17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

In 3:15, there doesn’t seem to be any direct reference to Christ and Satan.  Direct reference is to the serpent, its children, Eve, and her children (the word used is zara‘, which is a collective noun referring to a group of offspring, whether human, animal, or plant (seed)), but there is further, general symbolic reference as well, since the serpent would also seem to symbolize what is anti-God and anti-God’s-creation-purposes.  The enmity described thus also describes that between those with God’s mission – especially God’s people – and those who oppose that mission and seek to sway others from it.  The former will win in the end, but not without struggle and wounding.  In Israel’s own case, the anti-God forces came originally in the form of the Canaanites who led them astray from God’s Law.  Indeed, this is what we see in Genesis 9, where Noah is portrayed as Adam (a man of the soil, who consumes a form of fruit in a bad way, has his nakedness covered, etc.) and the descendants of the villain of the story, Ham, are cursed in a similar fashion to the serpent (referred to explicitly as Canaan).  Canaan was to function as Israel’s serpent.  This pattern, however, is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus’ victory over Satan – in Jesus, Adam and Israel’s missions are finally fulfilled and the pinnacle of evil and temptation is defeated though Jesus is struck (and precisely because he is struck).  This is the culmination of the principle of 3:15 – the ironic victory of God’s people over evil (as in Romans 16:20).  As the representative of God’s people, Jesus is Israel, he is the seed, who crushes the head of evil and takes on the identity and mission of God’s people and succeeds where they have failed (cf. Galatians where Paul identifies Jesus with the promised seed of Abraham (God’s people) and then calls Christians the seed – the former is head, representative, and completer of the latter).  The defeat of God’s enemies – the enemies of his people – means the removal of the obstacle to restoration and the fulfillment of God’s creation-purposes. 
In this light, Genesis 3-11 presents a long description of the continuation of humanity’s Fall that begun in chapter 3.  The solution – what I would call the real protoevangelium of Genesis – is in 12:2-3.  Blessing in Genesis represents the fulfillment of creation-purposes – this passage outlines God’s plan in choosing Israel and their mission as part of this, to undo chapters 3-11.  But first, Israel itself would have to be restored since it too suffered the consequences of those chapters  (Paul has a lot to say about this!).  The one who would do this – who would restore Israel and all of creation, fulfilling Adam’s and Israel’s missions as the new Adam, the true Israel – was, of course, God – specifically, God come in human flesh as the promised king of Israel to usher in this restoration – Jesus Christ our Lord!

Quick note on the etymology of “Immanuel” (“Emmanuel”, from the song, is how it was transliterated into Latin): ‘im is the preposition meaning “with”; with the added first person plural pronominal suffix (i.e., “us”), it has the form ‘immanu meaning “with us”; ’el is the generic word for “god”; so ’Immanuel literally means “with us God” – that is, “with us is God”.

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