His Bow in the Clouds

While there is a lesson (or two or ten) surrounding the genealogies that follow the story of Cain and Abel.  For the sake of keeping this train moving, I'm going to skip to the story of Noah and the flood.  I'm sure we will touch on the genealogies in some other areas.  It takes a lot of work to explain the concept of genealogy to a westerner in a way that they appreciate it and I'd like to keep the conversation moving on the trajectory we are on.  Just let it be known that genealogies are NOT simply a waste of space.  For the Jewish people, the genealogies are the best part of the narrative!

Nevertheless, the story continues.  And it's worth noting that after God took the world from tohu va'vohu (chaos) and brought it into order in Genesis one, the characters of the story have been slowly bringing the order back into chaos.  First with a person, then to a family, then to a whole family lineage, and then to a whole humanity.   The story of Noah begins with God declaring that mankind has become too corrupt and it is time to start over -- He's going to wipe the slate clean.

Now, before I get accused of running past one of the glaring points we ignore — the massacre of all humanity — let me make an observation that we'll expound on in later posts.  This story, for the ancient reader, is an obvious juxtaposition against their own well-known folklore.  The recipients of Genesis are from the ancient land of Mesopotamia.  One of the most famous ancient works of literature is the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh (EoG), which significantly predates Genesis.  The whole story of Noah is supposed to be held against the EoG.

At one point in the EoG, the main character becomes aware time and time again of the gods' plan to destroy the earth.  As Gilgamesh faces the prospects of death, he begins a search for immortality which leads him to another character, Utnapishtim.  Utnapishtim builds a large boat, loads it with his relatives and all species of animals and survives the Great Deluge.  At the end of the story, Utnapishtim even sends out birds to find dry land.

Now, the differences within the juxtaposition are striking.  Instead of the main characters running from, outsmarting, and defeating angry gods, the Biblical story has God partnering with man and having man assist Him in saving creation.  And that one point alone is worth putting in your cap.  God is not angry, He's looking for partners.  It's not a story of massacre.  It's a story of salvation.

But I digress.  Back to the story.

So God decides to start over in a sense and the sixth chapter of Genesis is where God returns creation back to its state of watery chaos.  The deluge reminds us of where the story began.  In fact, there are numerous parallels between the story of the flood and of the creation story of Genesis one.  After God brings creation back to tohu va'vohu, we find the Spirit of God once again blowing over the waters (compare 1:2 with 8:1, keeping in mind that "wind" is the same exact word for "spirit" [ruach; spirit, wind, breath]).  We find that the waters are being separated, the dry land appearing, birds being released and beasts being turned loose (many rabbis go to great length to show the seven days of creation paralleled in Genesis eight).  We also hear the same refrain to "be fruitful and multiply" (9:1) and even the command "you must not eat" being repeated (9:4).  This is the story of creation — or maybe of REcreation.

But what is the point of this creation story?  The first creation story was a chiasm.  This creation story happens to be a chiasm as well.  There are a few ways I could go about pointing it out, but I'll pick on of the easiest ways for a western reader to see it.  If one pays attention to the numbers of the story, particularly the numbers related to "days", they begin to immediately see the mirroring effect.

Seven days (7:4) 
Seven days (7:10) 
Forty days (7:17) 
Hundred and fifty days (7:24)
Hundred and fifty days (8:3)
Forty days (8:6)
Seven days (8:10)
Seven days (8:12)

What this means is that the "treasure" buried in Noah's story is 8:1-3a.
"But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.  Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky.  The waters receded steadily from the earth."

Now the story is bookended with talk about covenant (see 6:18 and 9:9).  So the Jews teach that when God remembers Noah, He is remembering the covenant He promised to make with Noah.  They also notice that the end of the story is a diatribe about this Noahic covenant.  Just read 9:9 through 9:17 and listen to how much repetition there is concerning covenant.

No, really.  You should stop reading this and read Genesis 9:9-17.

Now, if you just did that, you may have noticed something else.  Did Genesis 9:9-17 seem chiastic to you?  That's because it is!  the center of that chiasm ends up being 9:13-14 (I know that I'm starting to lose the typical reader who has been taught to analyze the propositions of the Text, but hang with me!).  God says He'll put his bow in the clouds; that when the clouds come He will remember — sounds like the center of the Noah story!

What is all of this about remembering?
And why is this story paralleling creation?

Because we are learning the same lesson about God (from Genesis one) all over again.  God is reaffirming the goodness of creation.  God said that He would put his bow (not a "rainbow" in the Hebrew, but a bow) in the clouds.  What is a bow?  It is a weapon of destruction.  You see, God is demonstrating His ability to know when to say enough. 

The first time, God knew when to stop creating.
This time, God knows when to stop destroying.

God knows when to say enough.  God is FOR creation, not against it.  We're being invited to trust the story — again.  Do we view God as an angry deity that needs to be escaped (grab your Epics of Gilgamesh!)?  Or is He a god that thinks creation is good and keeps promising that we can find rest for our souls?

I wonder how Noah will respond to God's invitation to trust the story…


Crouching at the Door

The story continues and Adam and Eve have two sons -- Cain and Abel.  The story tells us that the firstborn son is name Cain (Cayin in the Hebrew).  This name means "I have acquired".  It appears as though, through the name, Eve is acknowledging that she has learned a lesson from her previous experience in the garden.  One could say that in the last story, Eve became obsessed with her own creativity and refused to trust God's greater story -- that He had already created a good creation.  The name of Cain seems to imply that she recognizes that fact that she is not the one who created her son, but instead she has "acquired" him.  She even says in first verse of chapter four, "With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man."

Tempting to launch into a deep word study of the name Cayin, but for the sake of brevity, let's move on.

It's important to note that, in Hebrew thought, the name of an individual describes their essence.  Your name is who you are.  So, Eve naming her son Cain is more than just a statement about what she has learned.  It is also a statement about who Cain will become.  What will acquiring have to do with Cain's identity and life struggle?  This will be crucial as we continue listening to the story.

The story tells us that Abel is a shepherd and Cain is a farmer -- a typical place for an ancient Sumerian tell about creation to begin.  Two of the most ancient professions of humanity.  We are told that they both bring offerings to God and that God takes a liking to Abel's offering and doesn't particularly care for Cain's. 

That is all we are told.
This is important; as most westerners immediately want to begin speculating as to what was wrong with the sacrifice.  Speculation that's not based in historical context is always dangerous.  The important thing here is that the author doesn't tell us why the sacrifice isn't as acceptable.  There may or may not be hints within the Text as to why, but we need to be careful that we don't miss the details of what IS in the Text.  Apparently, the author does not want us to fixate on the content of the sacrifice, but the motivations of Cain (psst... remember his name?  That isn't just fluffy detail that is insignificant...).

Also, it's very important to note what the author does NOT say.
He does NOT say why the sacrifice is less acceptable.
He does NOT say that God is mad.  Or displeased.  Or even frustrated.
It does NOT say that Cain has sinned.
It simply says that two guys brought two sacrifices and God liked one more than the other.  He does NOT chastise Cain or reprimand him at all; in fact, the story proceeds much differently.

Now, pause in the story and let one problem sink in.  Just like in Genesis 1 and just like in Genesis 2-3, this story has problems -- things that just aren't right.  To use an illustration from Rabbi David Fohrman, what kind of a dad would have two sons and when the two sons brought two pictures to him -- one clearly more desirable than the other -- would make his opinion of the two pictures known?  Wouldn't any father acknowledge the loving motivations of the two sons and treat both pictures evenly, placing them both on the refrigerator door?

What kind of a God are we dealing with here?
Some people would say this is what is wrong with religion.

OR, is the author trying to draw us into that very question?  What kind of God are we dealing with here?

I wonder if Cain's name has anything to do with this?

Now, the story tells us that Cain is concerned about God's liking of his brother's sacrifice and that "his face was downcast".  Again, pause button.  Why is Cain upset?  Is he upset about his sacrifice?  His response will be to kill his brother (spoiler alert), so apparently it has to do with Abel.  Is it that God likes Abel more?  But why does he have to kill the brother?  What about his name -- "I have acquired"?

Does Cain have an innate awareness that his entire livelihood comes at the blessing of God?  As a farmer, does he know how badly he needs the sun and rain, things that he knows he has no control over?  Things that he knows he is at the mercy of God to receive?  In order to ACQUIRE, doesn't he need God's blessing?

You see, his brother Abel is a threat.  If Abel keeps giving good gifts, than he will likely begin to steal God's favor.  At this point, Cain would be in danger of no longer acquiring good things.  Abel must be removed from the equation.

But God comes and insists that the exact opposite is true.  His response to Cain is one of my favorite questions of God in the Text: "Cain, why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?"

God tells Cain he is just fine.  He doesn't like Abel more.  He doesn't like Cain less.  His evaluation of their offerings had no effect on their standing before Him.  If Cain simply lets it go and heads into tomorrow, he will be accepted.

He is already accepted.
He has everything that he needs.

Sound familiar?
It's almost like Genesis 1...

Cain is being invited to trust the story.  The same invitation that was issued to his parents is now being issued to him.  Apparently, even our mistakes and our shortcomings (dare I say even our sin), don't keep us from God's love and acceptance.  Cain is being invited to trust in God's love, to enter His rest, and let it go.  Write a new tomorrow.

And did you notice God's next statement right where we left off?  "If you don't do what's right, sin is crouching at your door.  It's desire is for you, but you must master it."  There's that idea of mastering your desires again.  Apparently, Cain is being invited to learn the very lesson his parents needed to learn.  You are not a beast.  You are made in the image of the God who knows when to say enough.  You can master your desires.

Don't be obsessed with your creativity Cain.  You will acquire.  God will take care of you.  Master your desires and your doubts about God's love for you.  Don't murder your brother because of your need to create -- to acquire.

We all know how the story ends, Cain kills his brother, refusing to trust the story and leading the narrative into tragedy.  He receives the consequences of his actions and then passes it down to his children.  Of course, there will be "another son" of Adam -- but now I'm getting into the next blog post...

Yet, the story begs us to make some basic observations.  Sometimes life hands us situations where what we have to offer is just simply not as good as it could be.  Sometimes we mess up.  Sometimes we flat out sin.  Sometimes we feel as though God's just not paying attention to us anymore and we begin to wonder if we're somehow dropping down the list of God's noticeables.

But God continues to insist that acceptance is ours.  He continues to invite us to trust His story and enter His place of rest for our souls.  He looks at our moments of personal frustration (even failures) and His words to Cain echo through the ages to our own ears: "Why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast?  Just do what's right RIGHT NOW.  Acceptance is yours.  Move on."

Trust the story.

**  Again, as will be true of much of my material on the Torah, Rabbi David Fohrman was a major shaper of my thinking and leader to almost all of the questions raised by the Text in Genesis.


The God that Knows When to Say Enough

And so the story moves on and we're told more about this creation of man that God made in His image and declared to be good.

We're introduced to a garden -- Eden ("delight") as God calls it -- and told that it is full of trees that are pleasing to the eye and good for food.  We are told about two trees in particular: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Then we're told about four rivers in one of the weirdest additions to the biblical text that I've ever found.  Outside of mystical interpretations (which may be completely legitimate, but not my textual "go-to-punch"), this paragraph appears to be nonsensical, irrelevant, wasteful, and a complete detraction from the current biblical narrative.  But, hold onto that thought, because no word is wasted -- it will come back in a later post.

God commands man not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and then makes a partner suitable for him.  She is taken from his ribs -- the innermost parts of him -- and is said to be his ezer k'negdo.  This term translates as the "help that opposes" (perhaps more on this later, but not for this post).  When God presents her to Adam, he names her "woman", a term that speaks of who she is.

We're then told that they are both naked.

This idea comes up a lot in the story, by the way.  The author seems to be particularly interested in this fact that doesn't seem to have too much relevance outside of explaining our incessant need for clothing.  At the beginning, we are told they are naked.  They eat from the tree and realize they are naked.  They hide from God and when God confronts them the main point Adam feels compelled to bring up is his nakedness.  Then God makes skins to cover their nakedness.

But there are other problems with the story, aren't there?

What about this tree?  It is called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and yet -- it is not.  Eve has a perfectly good understanding of good and evil.  She explains to the snake that she is not to eat of the tree -- that doing so would be wrong.  And even if that is not true, how can God justly punish a person who did not obtain the knowledge necessary to make the appropriate decision.  Justly, He would only be able to punish her on the SECOND time she ate from the tree; this is the only time she would have possessed the knowledge necessary to act in disobedience.

And why does Adam name Eve twice?  At the end of the story, he names her Eve.  But she already had a perfectly functioning name given to her by Adam -- Woman.

And how about this snake?  Why does nobody seem to be bothered by a talking snake? 

You see, this story is full of problems.  Much like the story of Genesis 1.  And any Jew would tell you that when there are problems in a story, grab a shovel, because there is more going on and you need to start digging. 

Well, to be fair, you don't hear the story in the original language.  So you don't hear one of the triggers inherent in the story.

Remember the idea of nakedness that seems to keep coming up over and over again in the story?  And do you remember the idea of chiasm from the last post?  Well, sure enough, this story is a chiasm as well.  The story begins with Adam naming her Woman and them being naked.  The story end with Adam naming her Eve and their nakedness being covered.  And in the middle of the story?  They eat from the tree, their eyes are opened, and they realize they are naked.  The whole story is about nakedness -- somehow.

Well, the Hebrew word for "naked" is 'arowm and the word for "nakedness" (used in the rest of the story) is 'eyrom.

And if you were listening to verse 3:1 in the Hebrew, you would have heard that the serpent was "crafty" or 'aruwm.  The word is so close to the word for naked, you almost wouldn't have noticed the difference at first. 

Not only this, but the story keeps trying to make the serpent look awfully like the humans.  The serpent can talk.  The serpent can walk (Didn't think the snake was walking? God's curse is that it would crawl on it's belly for the rest of its days).  The serpent can reason and argue.  The serpent can relate.

So, why is the author trying to make the serpent like the naked humans?  It's almost as if the author is begging the question: What makes a human different from an animal?  Try to answer that question and look at the above paragraph.  All of the things we would typically say to answer that question don't work within the Genesis story.

Did we notice anything else about the story that was amiss?  Did you notice what Eve saw when she looked at the tree?  God had said that all the trees of the garden were pleasing to the eye and good for food.  But when Eve looked at the tree, she saw that it was "pleasing to the eye, good for food, and desirable..."

The rabbis teach that the difference between man and beast is desire.  Think about it.  When an animal wants to eat, what does it do?  It eats.  An animal is not capable of practicing self-restraint.  This is actually the temptation of Eve.  The serpent tempts her to think that she is no different than an animal.  "God put the tree in the garden.  It's pleasing and good.  Just eat it.  God gave you desire for it, didn't He?  How could He give you desire and not want you to act?  You're just a beast like me."

You remember the invitation of Genesis 1?  To trust the story.  To trust that creation is good enough.  There is nothing more that God could do.  God's not holding out on you.

Adam and Eve are being invited to trust the story.  Yes, the tree is pleasing and good -- and desirable.  But you can trust that creation is good enough.  You can trust and rest.

One of the other answers to the question, what makes humans different from animals is that we are made in the image of God.  That is the right answer, but it simply leads to another question.  What does it mean to be made in God's image?

One of the names for God is "El Shaddai".  We translate that a lot of ways in the English, but it is very difficult to translate accurately.  The ancient rabbis said that the name literally should translate "the God that knows when to say enough".

And that's who He was in Genesis 1.  He knew when to say "enough".  He looked out at creation and He said, "It's very good.  I'm done."  He didn't rest because He needed a nap or was exhausted.  He rested because there was nothing else to do.  If He kept creating, He would actually destroy creation.  He knew when to say "enough".

You are made in the image of God.  You are built to be capable of saying "enough".  You aren't an animal.  You can control your desires.  But controlling your desires and saying "enough" is only an option if you trust the story.

God told His people in Genesis 1 that they had value, worth, and acceptance just because of who they ARE and not for what they produce.  Did you notice the two names of Woman/Eve?  The first name (before the tree) was all about her essence; who she was.  The second name (after the tree) was all about what she could produce.  It's the tragedy of not trusting the story.  We become people driven by our desires -- most importantly, our desire to be accepted.  And so we go and we go and we go.  We produce and we produce and we work and we impress and we do and we do.

But God invites us to trust the story.  God invites us to rest from our incessant need to be "human doings" rather than human beings.  God invites us to be made in His image and tell our desires enough -- they cannot rule over us.

Will you trust the story?

Will you enter God's rest?

Are you able to say "enough" to your deepest desires?

You are more than a beast.

**  There are parts of this post that were formed from the teachings of Rabbi David Fohrman and his multi-part teaching "Serpents of Desire".