Yesterday, we started on a month-long quest to answer the question: why did Jesus live? You really need to read that post to set the scene for what we’re doing. Because today, we begin telling Israel’s story, in order to work out what where the story was up to – and what Israel was expecting to happen next – when Jesus arrived. And to tell that story, we need to go back to the start of the Old Testament, and look at some of the key passages that give the framework for Israel’s story.
Footnote: some of the material in the next few days follows Scot McKnight’s outline of Israel’s story, from his book The Blue Parakeet.
Created to be image-bearers
In the beginning, God created the world – and humanity to rule over it as his vice-regent. We were to bear God’s image to the rest of creation:Gen 1:26-27 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
We were created to be at one with God, with each other (male and female), and with the rest of creation. That’s the way God intended his world to be: his image-bearers living in perfect community. And it’s the longing of all creation to return to that state, because (as we know), it didn’t stay this way for long…
Because we weren’t content to rule over creation under God.Gen 2:16-17 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
In other words: I’ve given you a lot of freedom as my image-bearer in the world, just don’t try to take my place as the one who determines what is good and what is evil. But this wasn’t enough. We broke this one rule, because we wanted to be “gods” ourselves:Gen 3:4-5 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
This was nothing short of a rejection of God and the way he’d set up his world. It’s like telling God that we wanted him gone from the picture, so we could run the show ourselves. (Or like telling our father we wanted our inheritance now, but more on that story later.)
The result, as we know, was catastrophic. God respected our decision, and withdrew the conditions under which we could be his perfect image-bearers, living at one with him, with each other, and with creation. The “curse” of Genesis 3 is an undoing of this perfection:Gen 3:16-19 To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labour you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
We were then kicked out of God’s presence (after he quickly made some clothes for us) and left to endure the consequences of our choice:Gen 3:23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.
The next part of Genesis (chapters 4 to 11) is simply the outworking of our being left to our own devices: death (you’ll notice that everyone listed in all those genealogies – except Enoch – dies); enmity (that whole Cain and Abel thing got the ball rolling); immorality (which led to the flood); and godlike delusions (trying to build a tower to the heavens, to “make a name for ourselves”) that lead to a divided and scattered humanity (the language barrier). By the end of Genesis 11, it’s a pretty depressing picture.
Although you’ll notice how God’s been at work, not completely leaving us to the mess we’d made. After Cain murdered Abel, God protected Cain against those who might kill him. When the flood came, God saved Noah and his family. And after Babel… well, that’s for the next instalment. When God begins his plan to fix what was broken and restore his image in the world. More tomorrow.
To think about
How do you see the “curse” of Genesis evident today in (1) humanity’s relationship with God; (2) humanity’s relationship with each other; (3) humanity’s relationship with the natural world?
How can all of these be “fixed”?