Bear the Name

Thou shalt not take the name of Yahweh thy God in vain.

Ex 20:7

Who are the elect? or, rather, to what are they elected? From the beginning, God has made distinctions; he has chosen some and not others. Eve and her seed are chosen over the serpent and his. Seth was chosen, appointed, as a replacement for Abel, who was himself chosen over Cain. Noah was chosen from among his entire generation to be the one to build the ark and save the world through the flood. Abraham was chosen over all the other men of Ur, the one to whom God said, in you and in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Sarah also was chosen, in her barrenness, to bear the son of promise. Jacob was chosen over Esau, not because of anything either had done, but so that God’s election might stand. Moses was chosen out of all the boy babies who were condemned to death to lead the people of God out of bondage and to give them a new law. The whole people of Israel was chosen, the least of all the peoples, to serve in the house of God, to bear the name of God, to guard the presence of God. Saul was chosen to give the people a king like the other nations. David was chosen over his brothers to shepherd the flock of God. The prophets were chosen to bring the word of God to the people of Israel. Mary was chosen to bring the word of God into the world. The disciples were chosen to bring the word of God to the ends of the earth.

What is all this? Some common threads run through the story. I will look at two: the thread of Adam and the thread of Eve. They are intertwined but distinct. God placed man in the garden sanctuary to serve and keep it. These are the priestly duties of the elect. The people of God are a kingdom of priests, which is to say, a people who are dedicated to service in the house of God. Israel was made up of concentric circles radiating from the tabernacle and temple. The priests were the closest and did the primary work in the house, keeping everything clean, trimming the lamps, stocking the loaves of “show” bread, and helping those who brought in their offerings. They also guarded the entrance to the house, ensuring that none who were carrying death entered. The Levites made up the next circle, aiding the priests in all of their duties of serving and guarding. The rest of the nation supported the Levites and the priests through the offerings brought to God. The failing of Israel (in this respect), and one of the things Jesus excoriated the Jews about, was their reversal of the role they had been given. Rather than seeing themselves as the servants of God and of the nations, they saw themselves as the special people, God’s favorites, lording it over others, oppressing the poor, and looking down their noses at Gentiles and Samaritans.

The thread of Eve begins when God tells the serpent that he is putting enmity—war—between the woman and the serpent, between her seed and his. From that point on, the struggle to bring forth the son of the promise is a continual theme in scripture. Sarah, out of her barrenness, bears  the promised son, Isaac. Rebekah suffers likewise for twenty years before she bears Jacob. Pharaoh attacks the sons of the Hebrew women. The virgin, Mary, finally brings the Christ into the world, and Herod, the new pharaoh, plots to kill the seed of the woman. In the vision of the Revelation, the serpent, that great dragon, is waiting for the virgin to bear her son so he can devour it. The role of these women, from Eve, the mother of the living, to Mary, the mother of our Lord, is the same role as that of the whole people of God: to bear Christ in the world. And this is true of all mothers. This is what motherhood is—bearing little christs, and through them bringing the light into the world.

This is, as far as I can tell, what the elect are elected for, what the church has been put in the world to do. And this is at least part of the significance of the third word. Thou shalt not take [upon yourself, bear] the name of Yahweh in vain [in an empty or deceitful or worthless way]. The people of God are chosen as Christ-bearers in the world. It is a weighty charge. There is work to do. Let’s get after it.

Sheep and Goats

Matthew [23] records Jesus’ lamentation over Jerusalem, “how often would I have gathered you together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing, but you would not. See, your house is left to you desolate.” Pointing to the temple buildings, he said, “not one stone will be left upon another that will not be thrown down.”  His disciples take him aside, apart from the crowds to ask him more about this. When will these things be? He begins to tell them about wars, famines, and earthquakes: these are the beginning of the birth pains (something new is being born). After warning them to flee from Jerusalem when they see these things begin, he announces in extraordinary language:

“And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

And just after this, to keep things in the right frame, he tells them “[It] is near, at the very gates… this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” We are still in the first century, the destruction of the temple and of the city in 70AD. Jesus then gives several parables warning the disciples to keep watch, for, again, the time is near. He makes a distinction in each of these between those who keep watch, who are faithful with what they’ve been given, who stay awake and keep their lamps lit, and those who are unfaithful and do not watch. The faithful are blessed, enter the feast, and enter into the joy of the Lord. The unfaithful are cut in pieces and put with the hypocrites, shut out of the feast, and thrown into the outer darkness. He ends this discussion with the parable of the sheep and goat judgment, which begins with the same language he used earlier: 

“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth [his] sheep from the goats…”

When the Son of man shall come… He isn’t beginning a new topic here. He is pointing back to what he had just said. These are the same words, the same signs, that earlier he made clear would all take place within the lifetime of his hearers. He does not here jump to a final judgment at the end of all time. He is still talking about the coming judgment against Jerusalem and the temple, with the same division he has just laid out in the preceding parables, now between sheep and goats. There will be those who listen to his warning and escape the imminent judgment, and those who do not listen and thus share in the fire and destruction. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But perhaps I am wrong, and he does shift to the final judgment (without warning). Here, the Protestants will not be happy. Upon what are the sheep and goats judged? Upon their works. The only distinction Jesus points out between the two groups is their treatment of others, how they have acted in the world. If this is the final judgment, then those who fail to do good works are consigned to eternal punishment and those who do them are given eternal life. The final judgment is then a judgment of merit. There is no mention of trusting Jesus, or his works, his blood, his cross, his death. No mention of asking forgiveness for sins, no mention of forgiveness at all. It is a judgment based solely on the merit of the person’s works, plain and simple. Catholics rejoice. But I am being flippant. This parable, along with all these other parables in these two chapters, is not about the final judgment; it is part of the answer to the disciples’ question, “when will these things be?” When will Jerusalem and the temple be destroyed? When is the end of this age, the age of the old, worn-out wineskin, the old covenant under the law? When will the next age begin, the age of the new and better covenant? When you see all these things, it is the beginning of the birth pains, the birth of the new heavens and new earth.

The Book of the Revelation answers the same question in more detail and in highly symbolic language. John begins, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass;” and again, “the time is near,” and again at the end, “Surely I am coming soon.” As in the parable in Matthew, so in Revelation [4-5], John sees Jesus in heaven at the throne of the Father, surrounded by the holy angels. The tribes of the earth mourn; the trumpets are blown. Babylon, the harlot city, the unfaithful bride, who has committed adultery with all the kings of the earth, who is arrayed like the tabernacle in gold, silver, purple and scarlet, in whom is found the blood of the prophets and the saints [18:24, cf Lk 11:50] is Jerusalem. She is destroyed and the new age begins with the descent of the new Jerusalem, the city-bride of Christ, the Church. This all certainly has application for us, but it is not about the future. This book, this revelation, is about the end of the old covenant and of the temple and city of Jerusalem, and the beginning of the new heavens and new earth; a new heaven because we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places at the right hand of the Father (now), and a new earth because it is no longer one nation who carries his name, but the Church, his bride, a body with members from every nation.

Dying You Shall Die

A question arises: is the death that follows the eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil a penalty? The language used in the law—he shall surely be put to death, or the like—is not used here. The same emphatic verb doubling is used but the form of the verbs is different. In Genesis, the simple action is recorded. In the detailing of the law in Exodus and Leviticus (ex. Ex. 21:15-17, Lev. 20:10-16), it is the passive causative form. For example, “eat” would be the simple form; the causative would be “cause to eat; feed”; and the passive causative “be fed.” The different translations we have for these phrases—shall surely die (simple), or shall be put to death (passive causative)—do accurately reflect the differences in the Hebrew.

It also isn’t what God does. He does not put them to death. It isn’t even said that the man and woman are cursed. The serpent is cursed. The ground is cursed for man’s sake. The work that they had been given in the world is now made hard, child-bearing is painful, they are cast out of the garden and cut off from the Tree of Life. Even so, the ground doesn’t only bring up thorns and thistles; it also gives the blessings of bread, wine, and oil. Child-bearing is not merely a painful burden, but the hope and salvation of the world—the restoration and reconciliation of all things, and the crushing of the serpent—comes through the seed of the woman. The blessing of God and the command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it are still on them and he provides covering for them—here at last is a physical death. Animals are killed to provide this covering; God makes atonement by the shedding of blood.

When Paul talks of this event in Romans 5, he also doesn’t set it in terms of crime and punishment, but in terms of the contraction and spread of a disease. Sin entered the cosmos by the one man, and death came in through the sin. Death spread to all men, wherefore (ἐφ᾽ ᾧ) all sinned. The fear of death shackles all in bondage, in slavery to sin. This seems to be a rather fundamental principle upon which prison or concentration camps function. The inmates are kept in check, even though they may outnumber the guards 10 to 1. So Sin reigns as master through death, until the Christ comes to set us free—we who are slaves of sin under the fear of death.

Wages of Sin

It is interesting that Paul calls death the wage, the earned payment, of sin, not the penalty. Sin as master pays death as the wage to those who work for it, who serve it. An eye-opening metaphor. We gain death incrementally—what we accrue as we work in, for, and to sin is death. The lusts and wanton, ill-directed desires, which hold out such pictures of enjoyment, happiness, and fulfillment, and toward which we strive and expend our efforts pay death instead. It is truly an astounding bait-and-switch that we fall for over and over. We know it every time we do something we know we shouldn’t do, even when those things are self-imposed thou shalt nots. We do it and the joy and fulfillment that was just before us vanishes and we are left crushed and defeated, loathing our weakness and lack of self-control. Not only does doing the thing point out to us our weakness, it makes us weaker. Next time we have less resistance to the dictates of the master. We hate it, but not enough to change what we do. Slaves we are to Sin and shall be until we kill it, until we die to sin ourselves and live to serve the Righteous One.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

One fatal tree there stands, of knowledge called,
Forbidden them to taste: Knowledge forbidden
Suspicious, reasonless. Why should their Lord
Envy them that? Can it be sin to know?
Can it be death?

Paradise Lost, Book IV

Adam was given only one rule or commandment regarding food: he may eat fruit of any of the trees of the garden, except the one in the middle; death comes with the eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We’re so used to the story that we pass this over without thought but it is such an odd thing. Why does death come with eating this fruit? It could be simply a test of obedience. The creator of all things has the right to do what he wishes with his creation; he can set boundaries where he pleases. Adam and Eve—we—do not get all God’s reasons behind his actions and who are we to ask? But if it is about obedience to the command, why a prohibition against this specific tree? Why not just The Forbidden Tree? Is the death attached merely to transgression of the command or also with the nature of the tree itself? Again, why is the prohibition against the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? It is clear that the knowledge of good and evil—the precursor to wisdom—is a thing to be sought. The Book of Proverbs practically shouts it: Get wisdom! It is more precious than all the wealth that can be had. Why would such a tree, a tree declared good and able to make one wise, bring death in partaking? Not only that, but what is meant by dying here? It isn’t obvious. They don’t die physically, not in that day.

God had said that in the day they ate, they would surely die. The serpent said that God knew that in the day they ate, their eyes would be opened and they would be like God, knowing good and evil. Perhaps a psychological  reading can help. It is the gaining of wisdom itself, the opening of the eyes that brought the collapse of the world as they knew it, that is the death. They were no longer children, no longer in ignorant innocence. Once opened, their eyes could not be unopened. The knowledge they received was not exactly the wisdom that they hoped for, not the power to see and judge all things as God sees and judges; it was self-consciousness. Their eyes were opened, but all they could see was their own nakedness. Perhaps this was the knowledge of evil: they knew their vulnerability, weakness, mortality, and how to use this knowledge to hurt or exploit others. They knew what it was to miss the mark, to fall short of the glory of God. They learned deceit, ill-will, unfaithfulness, suspicion. The good it did do for them, though, was give them the fear of God. That was the beginning of wisdom. From this point, the way forward is not a return to paradisal ignorance but a pursuit of more wisdom.

Following this line, it may be that the knowledge of good and evil is the knowledge of death. Moses prays that we would learn to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom (or bring our heart to wisdom). The knowledge of and reflection on our mortality brings us closer to wisdom. Perhaps this is also the fear of the Lord, of the immortal one, the source of our being, who holds our very selves in existence. 

Another layer of meaning may be found in a, what would this be? a positional or action-in-the-world reading. Paul seems to have this event in mind at the beginning of his letter to the Romans. The invisible attributes of God—his power and deity—were known from the beginning of creation, known to the man and his wife. Though they knew him, they did not give him thanks. And how could they, when they were doing the only thing he had said not to do? Professing themselves, or having pretensions, to be wise, they became fools. They exchanged the glory of God, in whose image they were made, for the likeness of man, birds, beasts, and creeping things, the creatures they had originally been given dominion over. Man lives not by bread alone, but by all that comes from the mouth of God. They received the fruit, so to speak, from the mouth of the serpent. He suggested that God was withholding this good from them, that equality with God was a thing to be grasped. They were complicit with the serpent, turning the truth—you shall surely die—into a lie—you shall not surely die. Following, trusting in the word of the creature over and against the word of their creator and sustainer is a turn away from their source of life, a turn to death.

Maybe a physical/metaphysical reading is helpful. C.S. Lewis uses two Greek words translated life to draw a distinction between the physical life of the body, Bios, and the spiritual life, Zoe. When Paul says that we were all once dead in our trespass and sin, it is clearly not Bios that he is referring to. We are not biologically dead before being made alive together in Christ. But this “dead in trespass and sin,” is this like calling a death row inmate the walking dead? Condemned but not yet executed? Is it a state of waiting future punishment? or is it more than this? Is the death he speaks of here the sin and trespass itself? Is the sin the death in which we walk? Missing the mark, straying out of the way is a living (?) in death, a walking in the way of death rather than the way of life. They stepped out of the way and the way to the Tree of Life was closed and guarded by the cherub and the flaming sword. 

Sons of God

In a straight reading of the first part of Genesis 6, verse 3 seems oddly placed. Verses 1 and 2 are beginning to tell about men multiplying on earth and the Sons of God taking wives of the daughters of men. Then comes verse 3, where God interjects that his spirit will not always strive with men. Verse 4 picks right back up with the narrative of the first verses. If we look at it chiastically, it makes more sense:

A. men began to multiply
    B. daughters were born
        C. Sons of God took daughters of men to wife
            D. My spirit shall not always strive, days will be 120 years
        C. giants in the earth; Sons of God came into daughters of men
    B. daughters bore children
A. mighty men

God’s actions—removing his Spirit, ceasing to wrestle with man, and setting a countdown on the life of flesh—are the focal point of the passage, not just an aside awkwardly placed in the narrative. But this raises the question of what is going on that this is God’s answer? Who are the Sons of God and the daughters of men?

A place to start would be to note that chapter 6 comes after chapter 5 (how insightful! we shall see.) Chapter 5 outlines the lineage from Adam to Noah and his sons. Adam was made in the image and likeness of God; Seth was born in the image and likeness of Adam (who was made in the image and likeness of God). Enosh was born to Seth (in his image and likeness), and so on to Noah. 

Let’s look a little closer at Seth. He was born after Cain murdered his brother Abel. His mother named him Seth—appointed, or set in place (of another)—because he was given by God in the place of Abel. Abel had been the one who walked with God, who would carry on the line of the Seed who would come to crush the serpent’s head.

This lineage is also set in contrast with the lineage of Cain at the end of chapter 4. These two genealogies are, I submit, the basis for understanding the Sons of God and the daughters of men in chapter 6. In other words, the Sons of God is not an idea or class that just pops into the narrative from nowhere, but should be understood in the light of the list of the sons made in the image and likeness of God given immediately before.

But what about the giants, the Nephilim? How could normal men and women have giant offspring? I’m not sure what more can be said except that the word Nephilim just doesn’t mean giants. It comes from the root nephal, which means to fall. These are the fallen ones, the sons of the line who strayed from walking with God, who fell into diverting, corrupting union with the ungodly. More on this presently.

With this understanding of the Sons of God, we can look again at God’s declaration in 6:3. God wrestles with men to bring them to maturity and glory. Jacob, as one of the clearest examples, became Israel—Prince-with-God—after wrestling with God and man and prevailing. Here God is giving them up, ceasing to wrestle. Giving them up to what? To their own lust and idolatry (which are perhaps the same thing). They are doing what the later Israelites did over and over. Numbers 25 is a good example. After Balaam could not curse Israel, he taught the Moabites to send out their pretty girls to entice the Hebrew men into taking them as wives and yoking themselves to the idol-gods of the Moabites (see Num. 31:15-16). The Sons of God were intermarrying with the line of Cain, the daughters of men, and were being led astray from following God; really, were ceasing to be sons and were becoming “mighty men”, tyrants like Nimrod who wanted to displace God, building a city and a tower with its head in the heavens, trying to make a name for himself rather than proclaiming the name of God.

Noah was the only uncorrupted man, the only one who walked uprightly in his whole generation. His father Lamech saw the corruption and lamented, but hoped that Noah would bring rest. The ark stood as a warning for how long? decades? They had had verbal warning through the prophet Enoch (see Jude 1:14-15), who named his son Methuselah—His-death-shall-bring-it. The flood is coming!

The Sons of God ignored it. 

The flood came.

Sun, Moon, and Stars

The sun moon and stars created on day four give light to the earth below. They are called rulers of the day and of the night, symbols or types of the spiritual and temporal rulers on earth. When Joseph dreams of the sun, moon, and stars bowing down to him, Jacob immediately and rightly understands these symbols to represent himself as the sun, the head of the chosen people of God, his wife, the moon, and his other sons, the stars. Likewise in the prophets, frequently the sun is said to be darkened, and the moon to not give its light or to be turned to blood (as in an eclipse), and the stars to not shine or to fall from the heavens. Isaiah 13 is a characteristic example. He takes up a discourse against Babylon; God is going to move the Medes against them to destroy them without pity. Man, woman, and child will be thrust through, houses spoiled, wives ravished. For the Babylonians, this is an earth-shaking event. Their world, their empire, is being torn down and replaced with another. The sun, moon, and stars, will be darkened—their king, rulers, and priests will no longer give their light, their direction, their uncovering judgment on the earth (see also Eze 32, Joel 2, 3, Amos 8, Matthew 24).

It is significant that each of the days of creation are given as evening and morning, a period of darkness followed by the dawning of the light. The whole Jewish calendar was almost entirely ruled by the moon. The months and the phases of the moon dictated the timing of feasts and holy days. Even the years were reckoned by the moon, adding months as needed to keep the calendar in sync with the seasons. The history of the Jews until Christ can be said symbolically to be night, ruled by moon and stars. With Christ comes the day.

Evening and Morning

On the first day God created light. He separated the light from the darkness. He called the light Day and the darkness he called Night. These are divided; they’re not present together but one follows the other in rhythm. The days of the creation week are marked out by the repeated phrase evening and morning. This is interesting. Day and night have been established and named but aren’t used to mark the days. Evening and morning, not night and day. Night can be seen, or is implied in evening and day is implied in morning but the focus or emphasis is on the transition between the periods of dark and light. Why? Maybe because night and day would be awfully binary. There would still be a rhythm, but it would be a square wave, an off-on switch. That isn’t how the world comes to us. Life is mostly rise and fall, not up and down (unless one is manic-depressive, which isn’t a pleasant way to move through life). This is seen in the falling away and the drawing near of God’s people throughout scripture (and history); in the decline and renewal of the sanctuary; in the fall of empires and the rise of new ones. C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity) points out that the difference between Christians and atheists is not so black and white as we’d like. A person with a highly disagreeable temperament, or one from a rough background, even though a Christian, may not show the same level of care, love, consideration, or humility as an agreeable or better nurtured atheist. The one should, and they both may, be moving toward “light.” Likewise, a long-time professing Christian may be moving away, toward “darkness.” Neither is an all-at-once thing. Stasis or limbo are fleeting. We are (nearly) always moving somewhere. Evening and morning captures the dynamic rhythm, the constant becoming of life.

In the Beginning

In the beginning, God created… This  word beginning (Heb. reshiyth) is interesting. It can mean first in time and also in position or prominence, as in head or chief. It is also frequently rendered as firstfruits. The article, the in English, isn’t present in the Hebrew. It just reads b’reshiyth, In beginning… This is common for abstract nouns—the same way we would say he is in love rather than he is in the love—and also for persons. The construction allows for understanding this both in terms of time and of person. Colossians 1:18 brings all these ideas together in the person of the Son: he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead… George MacDonald makes a similar argument, that when John says in his gospel In the beginning was the Word, it should be understood not only, or maybe even not primarily, as a reference to the start of time, but to the fact that all of creation is made in and through the Word. Or, in other words, Beginning was another name for the Word who is with God and is God. He is the origin, the source, the underlying being from which all beings have existence.

I Am Naked

Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and their eyes were opened and they knew that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves together to make a covering for themselves. In their own open eyes, they were covered. But in the revealing light of the glory of the Spirit of God, they were dis-covered. Even hidden among the trees of the garden, Adam cried out I am naked—Woe is me! I am undone; for mine eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of armies.