Bible Study 8.29.11, 9.1.11, 9.4.11 for Worship 9.11.11

Bible Study 8.29.11, 9.1.11, 9.4.11 For Worship 9.11.11

Genesis 3:1-24

Genesis 3: 3:1  Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?”

2  And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden;

3  but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'”

4  But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die.

5  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.

7  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

8  And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

9  But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”

10  And he said, “I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

11  He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

12  The man said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”

13  Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate.”

14  The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.

15  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

16  To the woman he said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

17  And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

18  thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.

19  In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

20  The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.

21  And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them.

22  Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever”–

23  therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken.

24  He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

COMMENTARY 

            Our scripture this week is a direct follow up to last week’s scripture.  The snake is indeed subtle in this passage. “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?”  What better way to entice a child or an adolescent into rebellion.  Exaggerate the prohibition and excite the desire to disobey.  The story teller in Genesis 3 was very wise and experienced in the ways of the world.  Put me on a limited calorie diet and it is like telling me I can’t eat anything.  That is why dieticians tell people, “if you really want it go ahead and eat it, just use moderation.”  I have found with my diabetes that when I over eat, or eat sweet stuff, I just don’t feel good.  That’s one way to curb an appetite.  After years of abusing food, I may be learning something.  But even then I still find myself over eating, when I am not being deliberately conscious of my food intake.

            We should note in this story that the ultimate enticement offered by the snake in verse 5 is “you will be like God.”  The sin of pride certainly haunts every human being who has ever lived.  Especially in our “me” oriented culture, many, many people try to replace God with self.  Idolatry of self is the most common form of worship – it is all about me. 

            Another point to note is that once humans rebel they become alienated from themselves, God and each other.  In verse 7 they become aware of their nakedness in a way that alienates them from their bodies, and they try to sew together fig leaves to cover their nakedness.  In verses 8 through 11 the awareness of their nakedness causes the humans to try to hide from God.  And in verses 12 and 13 the blame game begins resulting in the man and the woman becoming alienated from one another.  One of the consequences of their rebellion in verse 17 is that the humans become alienated from the earth, and they are doomed to toil to bring forth their food from the ground by the sweat of their brow.

            There is a wonderful prose poem entitled Adam that speaks to the issues in this scripture:

Adam

On the third day I was dust.

Ordinary common dust like you see on a country road in a dry spell.

Nothing expected of me.  Me expecting nothing neither.

On the sixth day he comes long and blows.

In my own image too he says like he was doing me a favor.

Sometimes I think if he had waited a billion years

By then I would’ve been tired of being dust,

But after two or three days, what can you expect?

I wasn’t used to being even dust, and he goes and makes me into man.

He could see right away from the expression on my face that I didn’t like it.

So he’s gonna butter me up.  He puts me in this garden.  Only I don’t butter.

He brings me all the animals, I should give them names.  What do I know of names?

“Call it something,” he says, “anything you want.”

So I make up names like lion, tiger, elephant, giraffe.  Crazy man, but that’s what he wants.

I’m naming animals since 5 a.m.  In the evening I’m tired.  I go to bed early.

In the morning I wake up and there she is sitting by a pool of water admiring herself.

Hello Adam, she says, I’m your mate, I’m Eve.

Please to meet you I tell her, and we shake hands.

Actually I’m not so pleased.

From time immemorial nothing, and now rush, rush, rush.

Two days ago I’m naming animals, today I’ve got a mate already.

Also I don’t like the way she looked at me or herself in the water. . .

Well you know what happened.  I don’t have to tell you.  There were all those fruit trees.

She took a bite, I took a bite, the snake took a bite, quick like a flash – out of the garden.

Now I’m not complaining, after all it’s his garden,

he don’t want nobody eating his apples, that’s his business.

What irritates me is the nerve of the guy.  I don’t ask him to make me even dust.

He could have left me nothing like I was before.

And such a fuss over one lousy little apple not even ripe.

I didn’t ask for a mate, I didn’t ask for Cain, for Able.

I didn’t ask for nothing, but anything goes wrong, who’s to blame?

Sodom, Gomorrah, Babel, Arrat –

Me and my kids catch it – fire, flood, pillar of salt.

“Be patient, Eve said, “a little understanding.  Look he made it.  It was his idea.

It breaks down, so he’ll fix it.”

But I told him one day, “look you’re in too much of a hurry. 

In six days you make everything there is, and you expect it will run smoothly?

Something’s always going to happen.

If you’d only thought first, conceived a plan, consulted a specialist,

You wouldn’t have so much trouble all the time.”

But you can’t tell him nothing,’ he knows all.

Like I say he means well, but he’s a meddler, and he’s careless.

He could have made that woman, so she wouldn’t eat that apple.

Alright, alright, so what’s done is done, but all the same,

He should have known better, or at least he could have blown on some other dust!

            “At least he could have blown on some other dust.”  When life is hard it is easy to blame God.  Why did God make life so difficult?  I remember one day complaining in Comparative Dogmatics Class, “surely God could have created a more perfect world – birth defects, tornados, hurricanes, even human nature for that matter.  And Dr. Lindbeck looked at me squarely in the eye and said, “Mr. Hurst while it is true that God could have created a more perfect Universe, this is the most perfect Universe in which you exist.”

            Chapter 3 of Genesis wrestles with the problem of trying to live in a broken world.  Creation mythology fantasized a golden age, a perfect world, where the lion ate grass, and there was no death.  We know now that the process of creation, while marvelous, also involves pain and death.  Life preys upon life.  The driving force behind evolution is the survival of the fittest.  And while we occasionally see signs of benevolence in human behavior, there is also a dark side of human nature that includes fear of the other, and the willingness to even kill the other in the struggle to survive.  Patterns of dominance have created hierarchies where some individuals thrive at the expense of others.  We live in a broken world.  In a sense God does need to assume responsibility for the darkness as well as the light in creation.  But as much as we want to shake our fist at heaven and complain about the unfairness of creation, or make suggestions for how it might have been created better, the answer comes back, “this is the most perfect Universe in which you exist.”  Blame doesn’t do anyone any good, nor does it improve the world in which we live.

            The Sunday when we will be using this scripture will be the tenth anniversary of the tragedy of the 9/11 attack on the United States.  There have been plenty of attempts to assess blame for that tragedy:  resentment of the underdeveloped world toward the hegemony of the United States; the Imperialism of radical Islamist ideology that wants to bring the whole world under the rule of an Islamic Caliphate, the evil designs of a small group of Al Queda terrorists, the relative unpreparedness of America.  Blame doesn’t do much good for anyone, and may actually get in the way of discovering the reasons for the event.  Ultimately it was the snake, and the snake is never happier than when everyone is pointing fingers at everyone else.    

            In fairness to the story, after everyone gets done blaming everyone else, Adam gives his wife a name, Eve, as a tribute to her that she is the mother of all living.  And God shows the humans how to make clothing.  These are little reconciliations on what is hopefully a road to what some day the Hebrew story tellers would call shalom.   

            Actually this is not the most perfect Universe in which we could exist, because we have an ability to improve life on earth.  We can make choices that will make life better for everyone around us, even for our environment.  We can choose to care for other people, to take care of our ecosystem, we can share, welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, provide medical care for the sick, and take care of the elderly and disabled.  Through acts of loving kindness we can make the world we live in a better place.  A more livable world through acts of loving kindness was the vision of the Mosaic Law and the way of Jesus.  Will life on earth ever be perfect?  No, but through love life can be better 

            According to this story there was no death until the humans were driven out of the Garden of Eden.  We know that the cycle of life and death has been a part of creation since the beginning.  Therefore we might want to explore some midrash that extends the scripture to learn to see death as a necessary part of life, indeed, death can come as a friend after a long a productive life.  Creation did not intend that any of us should last forever, and while we do not seek to end our lives before our time, we can learn to embrace the eventuality of death as a gift that makes life more precious. 

Special Feature – Teaching Scripture to Children

            Genesis Chapter three is the kind of story told around the campfire to explain some of the mysteries of life.  Why is there pain, when women give birth to babies?  Why do we have to work so hard for a living?  Why is the world broken?  Adam, Eve, and the snake provide a storyteller’s explanation for the brokenness of the world.  Human beings rebelled against God’s rule, and we all ended up suffering for their disobedience.  I think children are capable of seeing themselves in these characters.  Even very young children can relate to disobeying a parent.  Children learn fairly early in their lives that nakedness is embarrassing.  Most children can probably relate to the impulse to hide, when they have done something wrong.  We have to be careful with this scripture that children do not come away from the story with the picture of a punishing God.  If somehow we can relate the idea of there being consequences when we disobey rather than punishment, the story can serve as a positive model for children.

LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT

  1.  How did the snake begin the process of enticing the humans to disobey God’s rules.

 

  1.  What misstatement does the woman make concerning God’s rule?

 

  1. Did anyone in this story know what death was?

 

  1. What promises did the snake make concerning those who eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

 

  1. Did the humans like the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

 

  1. What was the first consequence of eating the fruit?

 

  1. How do the humans attempt to hide their nakedness?

 

  1. What was God’s first clue that the humans had eaten the fruit?

 

  1. Who all gets blamed for the human’s misbehavior?

 

  1. What punishments does God hand out?

 

  1. What gesture of mercy does God make toward the humans?

 

  1. How does God prevent the humans from eating from the Tree of Life?

 

LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US

 

  1. What is the most difficult struggle you have with something you know you should or shouldn’t do?

 

  1. What is the greatest temptation of wanting to be like God?

 

  1.  What’s the matter with wanting to be wise?

 

  1. For you, what is the most difficult prospect of dying?

 

  1. What do you think is the symbolic meaning that the humans became conscious of being naked.

 

  1. What responsibility do you think God needs to take for the brokenness of creation?

 

  1. What’s the problem with blame or blaming?

 

  1. One author claims the story is about human alienation:  Alienation from the earth, from other people, from God, from self.  How do you see alienation working itself out in your own life?

 

  1. How would you recast this story to talk about consequences rather than punishments?

 

  1.  What do you think of Dr. Lindbeck’s statement:  while it is true that God could have created a more perfect Universe, this is the most perfect Universe in which you exist?

 

  As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, how do you see terrorism as an example of living in a fallen world?

 

 

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One Comment on “Bible Study 8.29.11, 9.1.11, 9.4.11 for Worship 9.11.11”

  1. Mike Stroud says:

    Having perhaps gotten ahead of the point on the post for the 9/4/11 lesson, I probably should not have much to say here. Nonetheless, the text, like most of the Bible, is rich enough to yield even unexpected insights, so I shall take a hand at it.

    In the mid-20th century, theologians addressed the story of creation as embodying primordial anxieties that exposed the basic psychological insecurity of human beings. This was an existential approach, and to a point, it improved significantly on the old “In Adam’s Fall, We Sinned All” simplism of traditional Protestant piety. The creation story was at once relativized (as it did not in any way resemble historical, empirical fact) and also magnified, in that at least Christians saw not only the supposed origins of personal sin and alienation from God, but a premise upon which the grand narrative of the Biblical text, the Old Testament in particular, hung, which tells the story of a civilization, one which Western society at the time professed itself to be the successor of.

    Today, things are not so simple. Knowledge about other faiths and the spread, at least among some, of scientific knowledge put all previous dogmatic postulates into serious disrepute, at least among the educated. The “New Atheism” propounded by several recent writers calls it all a fiction, a grand fantasy and scam designed to keep believers childlike and submissive. And those writers have been given plenty of ammunition by the outlandish interpretations made by many pastors and scholars, particularly within “evangelical” (read: fundamentalist) circles. Usually, these “extravagant theories” (Reinhold Niebuhr) about human sin and depravity revolve not so much around biological inheritance as thoroughness, that to question authority is ipso facto proof of sin. People are depicted as “lost” in sin, the image of God so absolutely demolished by this one act of disobedience that they cannot help themselves or, in some views, do the morally good. While this may be justified perhaps by the Reformation insistence on the absolute grace of God as the effective agent in human salvation, it has mostly been mishandled to the point of having nothing truly constructive to say about human civilization. The Enlightenment saw to that.

    Christians like myself are hard pressed to counter such arguments, and it may well be that nothing will convince those with deep prejudices against anything pessimistic or negative. But the Bible is not principally about a defense of God’s ways to humankind, as it is a summons to love and fulfillment. That’s where the comment from the pastor’s old seminary professor, George Lindbeck, may come in. Lindbeck, who spent many years at Yale Divinity School, was one of several advocates of the “postliberal,” or narrativist, approaches to Scripture and theology. That is to say, philosophical speculation like the pastor made when he was a seminarian, innocent though it may have been, did not have any weight on the matter, since the Bible is not a compendium of “facts” that have to be mastered in order to get a right relation with God. The Bible is not designed to answer our curiosity about our world; it is rather to proclaim a new world coming in the midst of the old one. Lindbeck did the correct thing by forcing the young seminarian to see the situation through another lens. We would do well to lay aside naturalistic, deterministic, and philosophical approaches to the text and to relate it, instead, to the miracle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If the Son of God took it upon himself to come into our diseased, dying world, there is no reason–absolutely none–why we should be spared it.

    The culture of accusation has become so acute that its effects upon the body politic of this nation are approaching the nihilistic, and frankly dangerous. It is, as our pastor strongly implies, a way of trying to justify the self before God and avoid the reality of death. Besides, to treat the passages as fodder for a prescription (“do right and you will not die”) does not work. Physical death is here to stay. Spiritual death is something else entirely. That’s really what the story was all about, anyway. And a solution to that would be centuries away. But there is one huge difference between then and now–it’s available to us for the asking.


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