Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Lesson Recap; Why Stories of Power

Now that we have gone through the more general stories of the first 11 chapters of Genesis it is time to ask some questions about what these stories have said about God. I said general stories because the stories so far have in many cases dealt with the whole world; the creation, the flood, the scattering of mankind at Babel. While the stories have been general and may have been thought to be universal they really have only had a very narrow focus upon life in the Middle East. The Ancient worlds of China or South America have no application to the material in the book of Genesis.

However we may view the book of Genesis today it is very likely that to the Israelite the stories in the book of Genesis were treated as actual events. It is also just as likely that the stories they had heard in Egypt, the myths about the Egyptian gods, the creation stories were also held at some time to be accurate accounts also. It is only with the passing of time and the increase in knowledge that people began to see stories as myths, meanings that do not depend upon holding the story as historical truth. From our perspective as Christians it is nearly impossible to separate the stories of Genesis from the expanse of Old Testament and New Testament documents. But it may be important for us to consider the meaning of these stories from both perspectives.

What was God like to the Israelites? God begins by creating the world and then kicks man out of paradise for disobedience. Cain kills his brother and is given a mark for protection and sent to wander the earth, rather similar to the exile from Eden actually. Violence increases and God destroys the world with a flood. After the flood man wants to make a name and stay together. God sees that nothing is impossible to man and comes down and confuses their language to spread them apart. There are certainly some wonderful tidbits within the story such as after the flood the words about the life being in the blood and that no man should kill another because they are made in the image of God.

But what is the image of God that we see in these stories. Is it a God of love? What has God done by His destruction? From the Israelite perspective the destruction is balanced with deliverance and the establishment of the nation of Israel. In fact that is what the whole of Genesis is really about, the establishment of the nation chosen by God to inherit the Promised Land. Even with our advantage of having the rest of the Bible we are left with a very similar view as would be held by the early Israelites. That is that all this is about the establishment of the nation of Israel, we just go farther with the addition of the Messiah through whom reconciliation between God and man is made and the promise of a new World is presented.

What we have to ask ourselves is what was God trying to accomplish with the spectacular of power in such events as the flood. First of all if we assume it is a universal flood then it seems a bit of overkill. But even if it was universal what did it accomplish. Within a few years it seems there were equally wicked people once again asserting their desires upon the less powerful. Nations and kingdoms arise and fall and evil often rises and falls as well. These demonstrations of power did not seem to establish respect for God let alone any love for God among the people who were subjected to the power.

What if the stories were meant to have application to those who were recently freed from slavery and were part of the chosen nation? Then the stories would be encouraging to those people. Theirs was a God of power; theirs was a God with a plan and who stood against evil in the world. It is the first step in the process. For God to be God among the many Gods He had to establish Himself as the authority and the God in control. This may not be the way we want to see God today as we prefer the God of love, but it was the crucial step in the acknowledgement of God to Israel. In a polytheistic world the step toward the one true God is defined by the power of that One True God. In the monotheistic world it is the character of God that is all important. The Old Testament, the stories are leading us in a step by step process in understanding God and ourselves.

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