November 18, 2017

The Land of Blessing

By Chaplain Mike

One of the interesting points of understanding that I came to accept when I studied under John Sailhamer is that there are two focus points in Genesis 1.

  • First, God created everything (1.1).
  • Second, within his creation God prepared a special land in the world where he put Adam and Eve (1.2-31).

English versions obscure this by translating the Hebrew word eretz as “earth” rather than “land,” which is its more common meaning. For modern readers, the word “earth” conjures up pictures of the globe that we know as Earth, the planet in its entirety as it exists in outer space among the other heavenly bodies. However, this is not nor could it be the viewpoint of the author of Genesis. I have already noted that verse 1 should be translated, “In the beginning, God created the skies and the land.” In Genesis 1.1, the author’s perspective is that of one standing on the ground, looking out across a landscape and thinking about God’s creation of all things from that point of view.

Within this comprehensive creation, God prepared a place (a land) where he pronounced his blessing. Beginning at Genesis 1.2, the focus narrows considerably to “the land,” and in particular, to the land where he brought forth living creatures and human representatives (1.24-31). What land is this?

While it is possible that Moses is describing all the lands on planet Earth and making a general statement about God preparing various land masses for his creatures, I think it more likely that he has a particular land in mind.

  • The fundamental argument for seeing a specific land here comes from accepting that Genesis 1-2 contain complementary, parallel accounts of the same events. Genesis 1 says that God formed the land and then created male and female humans to serve him there. Genesis 2 identifies the Garden in Eden as the place where God made the man and woman and brought them together. If chapters 1-2 are telling the same story from different perspectives, we must respect the parallels between them and recognize that “the land” where God created humans in ch. 1 correlates with “Eden” and specifically the “Garden” in ch. 2.
  • According to the description of the rivers that form the boundaries of the Garden in ch. 2, we can deduce that Moses is identifying Eden with the Promised Land. That is where Adam and Eve received God’s blessing. This is the land that God later promised Abraham and his descendants when he entered into a covenant with the patriarch (Genesis 15.18-21).
  • This is the same land into which Joshua led the Israelites who received the Torah from Moses (Deut 1.7-8; 7.1). Though Israel dwelt in this land for many years, the only time Israel ruled over all of this land was during the reign of Solomon (2Kings 4.21; 2Chron 9.26; 8.7-8).
  • The depiction of the land as God the King’s “temple” (explained in my earlier Genesis 1 post) reinforces the idea that Moses is identifying a particular place in the world where God made his glory known, and from which his blessing was to emanate throughout the whole world.

Other First Testament passages reinforce that the Promised Land is in view in Genesis 1:

  • Jeremiah 4.19-31 is Jeremiah’s lament over the fall of Jerusalem. In this passage the prophet pictures the land going back to its pre-preparation state, using language directly from Genesis 1—“I looked on the earth [land], and behold, it was formless and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light” (v.23). This text is specifically about the “whole land” of Israel (v.20) and not the earth as a planet. In judgment, God returns the land to its Gen. 1.2 condition.
  • Jeremiah 27.5 is part of another passage which predicts judgment on the Promised Land. This verse looks back on what God did in Genesis 1 and links it specifically with that particular place—“I have made the earth [land], the men and the beasts which are on the face of the earth [land] by My great power and by My outstretched arm, and I will give it to the one who is pleasing in My sight.” The passage is clearly about God’s right to give the Promised Land to whomever he chooses, and in that light he hearkens back to the fact that in Gen. 1 he formed and filled that land with creatures by his divine strength.
  • Some believe that Exodus 20.11 contradicts this view: “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” This verse seems to summarize all of Genesis 1, including 1.1, thus saying that the entire universe and not just the Promised Land, is the subject of the six creation days. However, Moses does not use the merism, “the heavens and the earth” in Exodus 20.11 but rather a list of four separate things: (1) the skies, (2) the land, (3) the seas, and (4) all that is in them. This is a summary of what God did in Genesis 1.2-31. During the six days, he did not create the universe; rather, he prepared the skies, the seas and the land for life and then filled them with lights, living creatures and human beings. The ultimate focus is on the Promised Land.

In fact, the focus, not only of Gen. 1-2, but also most of Genesis 1-11, is on what happened in this part of the world—in and around the Promised Land. We might call this section, “The Early History of the Promised Land.”

Specific geographical references are nearly absent in Gen. 1-11 until you get to chapter 10. At that point, the author records how the various nations became “separated into their lands” (10.5, 20, 31-32), and then tells the story of how that occurred at Babel (11.1-9). Except for Genesis 1.1, there is NO worldwide focus in Genesis until we begin to read about the nations (ch. 10), the tower of Babel (ch. 11), and the promise of blessing to Abraham (ch. 12).

Instead, what we see in Gen. 1-11 is a series of ever-widening geographic circles.

  • We start in “the land,” (ch. 1), which correlates with Eden and the Garden (ch. 2-3). The boundaries described are those of the Promised Land.
  • Next, Adam and Eve are exiled to the east, out of the Garden, but apparently still in Eden (3. 24).
  • Cain kills Abel and is subsequently exiled farther east, to the land of Nod, east of Eden (4.16). Interestingly, he speaks of meeting other humans outside the land, settles in another land, and marries and has children there. This is evidence that there were other human beings in the world outside the land where God put Adam and Eve.
  • There are no geographical references in the genealogy of ch. 5, but ch. 6 concludes the account with several references to “the land” in 6.1-8. The land is where the sons of God took the daughters of men for wives, where the Nephilim lived, where the wickedness of humans grew, where God was sorry that he had made man, and where he determined to blot out humans.
  • The emphasis on the land continues throughout the story of Noah. At this point in Genesis, humankind is still dwelling in the vicinity of the land, and therefore it is this land and region that suffers God’s judgment when humans fill it with evil. The flood was a disaster that befell the region of the Promised Land, not the entire earth. It is not until Noah’s sons emerge and begin to multiply that the Torah depicts humanity spreading beyond this locale.
  • Genesis 11.1-9 tells the story of how that migration began. Note how the story begins: “Now the whole earth [land]…journeyed east…found a plain in Shinar and settled there” (11.1-2). Noah’s descendants stayed in the land until they all decided to move even farther east. The land of “Shinar” is the region of the city of Babylon, which they founded. From there, God scattered them into their own lands around the world.

Thus, the geographical movement in Genesis 1-11 is from the “land” where Adam and Eve lived, moving eastward ultimately to “Babylon” and finally, to being scattered “over the face of the whole earth” (11.9).

It is in this context that God leads Abram and his descendants back to the original land and promises to use them to restore his blessing to all the families spread throughout the earth.

All this reinforces the interpretation that Genesis 1.2-31 is not about the creation of the universe (that is the point of 1.1). Rather, the six days of Gen. 1 describe how God prepared a specific place within his universe where he created humankind and blessed them.

Comments

  1. I was wondering how Jer. 4:23 fit into this, having realized recently that it used the same language as Gen. 1:2. Because in Jer. 4:23 “formless and void” just means unpopulated, which is decidedly not how we have interpreted Gen. 1:2.

    All of which ties in nicely with the idea that, having created the land and the sky, that the balance of Gen. 1:2-31 deals with the preparation of the promised land.

  2. alvin_tsf says:

    thank you very much chaplain mike.

    i’ve always wondered how that Nephilim and the whole business of the sons of God marrying daughters of men fit into the whole Gen 1-11 story line. your insights with regards to the land put in a good context.

    what strikes me most with your exegesis is the whole process of man moving eastward and theologically, moving away from God. that sets a wonderful context for abram’s call as God’s grace and love in redemption.

    i’m not much into the issues of YEC, ID and evolution etc. i’ve always held that genesis was a preamble to the covenant of God with His people. and that gen 1 is some sort of prose/poetry and not a science text. hope to hear more of this from you and the other writers at iMonk

    thanks so much.

  3. From the rivers named in Genesis, and satellite photography of the Middle East (which reveals dried-up riverbeds), the location of Eden was apparently just off what is now the coast of Kuwait.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      If you’re talking about what I think you’re saying, that location (where four fossil rivers come together in what is now the bottom of the Persian Gulf) has NOT been above sea level since the seas rose at the end of the last Ice Age, some 12000 years ago.

      Could this tradition actually be describing an Ice Age geography, handed down orally from 12000 years ago?

      • Lukas db says:

        Hence the deluge story.

        Stranger things have happened. In the south of India, there are songs and dances passed down orally that are so old, they are indecipherable. They are related to no known language, and those that sing them have no idea what they mean. Some anthropologists think they may be well over 20,000 years old.

  4. Good thoughts, great post. I might just point out, though, that eretz can refer to a specific land, sure, but also to all the land in the world, or the “earth.” Every good lexicon and theological dictionary points this out. And “heaven” is a fine translation for shamayim – people in the ANE believed there was a region past the air where the gods lived. in fact, they thought a flat “earth” consisting of various “lands” was covered by a dome above the sky. above this dome is where the gods live, thus the translation “heaven” for shamayin. it’s quite common for hebrew words to do double duty, and so context is king, as it were.

  5. I find your view interesting. I’m personally YEC. I take Scripture literally, in a literary way. In regards to this issue, I believe it contains scientifically observable descriptions, but I don’t believe it’s a scientific instruction manual. I believe the creation account is more than just a poem, but I find high value in the insights from the theology of the poetry view. I’ve always been YEC, but I don’t believe Theistic Evolutionists are undermining the faith. I applaud those who, with integrity, are willing to keep a dialogue open, rather than run to the trenches. And I will admit that if I ever were to be a theistic evolutionist, this post (and part 1) are the closest, reasonable “literal” explanations that I can see making sense.

    But my major objection, and the thing I’m still wondering about, is why God would need to assign functions to light and darkness, to hang lamps to shine on the land, and to regulate days and nights for the Promised Land if the whole earth already existed? (Like I said, I’m a literary literalist, but I’m still a literalist.) I also think the question someone else asked about why there was a tree of the knowledge of good and evil before original sin occured is a good one. Yes, those questions require a literal perspective. But, I think you’re view posits a “literal” perspective of a writer, standing on the land, looking around, describing what God did to prepare this land. So why would those lines be included?

    I’m not trying to argue or debate. I truly would be interested in a convincing explanation. And if there’s not yet one, that’s fine. God reveals all things in His time.

    Thank you for your thoughful post.

    Grace and peace,
    Erin

    • Lukas db says:

      Erin, the issue I see with being a literalist is that no-one, until about 400 years ago, was a literalist. The category of ‘literal’ fact, as opposed to subjective or mythical truth, simply didn’t exist in people’s minds. There was truth, and there was non-truth. Further distinguishing the two wouldn’t have made any sense to the original writers and readers of the OT.

      Past that, I personally don’t really have answers to your questions. Maybe those more learned do. I like the way you think; these are good questions.

      • In my uneducated state, I would have to disagree with your first point. I think Jews took Daniel very literally (as one example; Daniel himself took Jeremiah literally), which is why the fervor for the Messiah’s appearing was so great around the time that Jesus came on the scene. They saw the events of Antiochus IV, they saw the destruction of the 4th beast (Greece), and that told them God was coming. I imagine people will counter me not only with “facts” that Daniel was written late, but also with the idea that the Jews were merely in a fervor b/c they were tired of being under oppression. I agree that they were tired of being under oppression. But the prophets had told them to listen to what God said 500 years before; they didn’t, and what the prophets said *literally* happened. I don’t think they wanted to make that same mistake again (which is ironic, given how things turned out.) But now we’re getting into prophecy, which is a whole other topic, so my apologies.

        Perhaps those who have only truth and non-truth are more easily willing to accept truth as fact? So the “literal” question didn’t exist b/c it was assumed, in some capacity. And as new knowledge (fact) was gained, it was merely absorbed into the reality of the truth they already knew. ??

        • Lukas db says:

          I’m not sure how many facts we have about Daniel, inside or outside of scare quotes. It often does seem strikingly as though it was an allegorical response to the books of the Maccabees, decrying the methods of the violent revolution that lead to the expulsion of Greece. But questions of chronology aside, even if we can say Israel was interpreting its literature literally (in my view, they weren’t; Greece, for instance, wasn’t a beast, it was a nation. That’s more a mythological interpretation than a literal one), they were often catastrophically wrong about what was being predicted. Remember what a hard time Jesus had telling people he wasn’t going to be an earthly ruler, like they expected.

          With some reservation, I feel I can agree with the second paragraph of your reply. I suppose it becomes easier to adapt new information into old assumptions or predictions if those assumptions and predictions were less than mathematically delineated to start with.

          • Sorry for the late response. I just got back from vacation.

            “Greece, for instance, wasn’t a beast, it was a nation. That’s more a mythological interpretation than a literal one.”

            That’s why I posted my caveat, that I’m a “literary literalist.” Genre of writing is certainly to be taken into account. Scripture is full of symbolism. Pharisees weren’t “literally” white-washed tombs, etc. If our Christianity is cultural (to refer to a more recent post), we have to taken into account the cultural and human ways of speech and expression, including story and symbol.

            And, given your reference to “scare quotes,” I feel the need to “defend” myself (ha ha) by saying that I’m not a premil-dis. I love Bauckham, Keener, Rossing and Gurney (though I disagree with Gurney’s final conclusions). I tend toward an amil, partial-preterist view, while still waiting for Christ to return.

            You are correct about them being catastrophically wrong (the irony I mentioned before). When God does something new, it’s always difficult to wrap our finite minds around it. I don’t know how much humility and discernment play into that.

            IF interested (if not, that’s fine), I have found this link regarding Daniel’s dating to be interesting, especially in regards to the different assumptions made regarding the dating of Psalms vs. the dating of Daniel, despite similar evidence. You’ll find that discussion in the first link (“The Dead Sea Scrolls data”) at the very bottom:
            http://www.christian-thinktank.com/qwhendan3x.html

            If you happen to be aware of factual data to contradict the data listed within the link, I would genuinely be interested to read it. I’m honestly always interested in learning.

            I liked Chaplain Mike’s comments in Part 3 of Exile to Eden about “Who provides what is good?” And the post about surd evil. It’s all very interesting. I’m not a gung-ho “make-or-break” creationist, and I find the insights from these kinds of debates very informative.

            Thanks for all your thoughts.

            Grace and peace,
            Erin

  6. In light of all this, how would you interpret Mark 10:6?
    “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.”

    Is it:
    “From the beginning of creation, God made hydrogen, which became the heavier elements, which became mud, which became single celled organisms (which reproduced asexually), which became single celled organisms which reproduce sexually (with a single sex, that is _female_), which eventually became bisexual organisms”.

  7. This eretz as “land” thing sounds cool in the abstract, but when actually plugged into the text of Gen. 1 it isn’t such smooth sailing. Your calling it “the more common meaning” is misleading in the extreme, and perhaps non-factual. It certainly is not demonstrable today that a Hebrew speaker of that era would find “land” some kind of default meaning over “earth.” If you are saying most common in the corpus of the OT, that is quite another thing. Yes, I think it probably is, but that is a particularity of the data, and the OT corpus, as big as it is, is still a small sample of Hebrew.

    What we are faced with really, though, is not plugging in “land” as the meaning for eretz in Gen 1 and then seeing what it does for us. And Lo and Behold, it solves a problem. It gets us past the dreaded Fundy monster. The question is, is there any way a Hebrew reader, without a fundy monster problem, would ever construe eretz in the text to refer specifically to the promised land. I’m afraid I for one don’t see that there is. Absent context, I think eretz defaults to “earth.” However, there is abundant context, and it’s cosmic, not local. Sun, moon, and stars. Birds, fish, creeping thngs. If this text is about the promised land, Moses, you got some ‘splainin’ to do.

    In fact it’s much, much harder to read it with “land” than with “earth.” You really gotta wanna. And it’s that wanna that disturbs me. What is it that you want? Where are you trying to go? There’s an agenda. It’s that “I ain’t no Fundy” thing, isn’t it?

    I have talked about text priority. I want to see where the text compels me, or instructs me to opt for “land” over “earth.” I don’t think it does, not without the Fundy monster breathing down our neck.

    It’s another red herring to say the Hebrews didn’t picture the globe, a round planet, among the other planets of the Solar System. That’s true enough, but they did have a concept of the entirety of the land that is, not just the land of Israel, but places beyond and places that no one they know has ever seen. They had a word for this: eretz. It is true that eretz has multiple meanings. When you say eretz yisrael, that means the “land of Israel” and now you know it is a territory with specific boundaries. But they were able to use these words without significant confusion.

    • Lukas db says:

      Marv, is it possible that you have an agenda to maintain a literal interpretation of Genesis as much as others have an agenda to avoid being a fundamentalist?

  8. Other folks have already pointed this out, but I will just add that you are misusing the term ‘aretz and basing your entire exegesis upon that. The term ‘aretz has many meanings in Hebrew, as “earth” and “land” both do in English, including the ground that you till, it means all of the physical substance we live upon, and, of course, it can mean a country or region, such as the “land of Canaan.” (I notice you further complicate the situation by replacing “land” with “place.” That certainly isn’t in the Hebrew.)

    Chapter 1 is, in my view, very clearly talking about the origins of the cosmos and the planet as a whole. The term “heavens and earth” is a hendiadys, used in conduction it is clearly marking all of creation thus the “land” is not a single place such as Eden, but rather “heaven and earth” refers to the creation of all things. As the term is then used throughout the rest of the chapter we find the land that is separated from the waters, life growing upon, etc. is a description of the creation of the known world, limited compared to our modern conception, but broader than the Garden.

    I am a new reader, so I am not sure what “post evangelical” means to you and whether you are suggesting we are all living in a post-e world if it simply refers to your own efforts to live in a post-e world. In any event, but I read Marv’s reference to the “Fundy” monster and I not that your own reading is quite “fundamentalist” even if it takes a slightly different angle (Mosaic authorship, harmonization of the two accounts, justification of the Promised Land, etc.). Why not read it more literarily, along the lines Erin suggests? (Although I do not know what a YEC is….)

    FWIW I have blogged quite a bit on Genesis in the last year. http://targuman.org/blog/tag/genesis/ (click back through to the earlier posts) You can see my introductory comments, for example, here http://targuman.org/blog/2009/09/07/genesis-1-reading-indeductively/

    Thank you for the interesting post!

  9. Lukas db says:

    A lot of the discussion here centers on the word aretz. People are trying to figure out what specific meaning this word has, among several possibilities, in this specific context.

    If you read good literature, I think you will find that ambiguity of definition is something that stylists embrace. Creating a network of associations and implications, all relevant, all useful, all thought-provoking: that is the ideal result for many a writer.

    Could the same not be the case here? Perhaps we aren’t supposed to draw the one true meaning from this text. Perhaps it implies several things, all building to a larger picture that could not otherwise be properly portrayed.

    I doubt, however, this viewpoint will hold much truck with exegetes. There isn’t much to be gained when you can’t write a commentary or definition. There isn’t much to do when you have to let the text stand for itself.