Genesis 8:20–9:17

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Genesis 8

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”

Genesis 9

1And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

I love that old joke, “What do you get if you play a country song backwards?” Answer: You get your truck back, you get your dog back, you get your wife back, etc. Here is a little secret about Roni and me: we really love old sad country songs. For instance, we have a deep love for Vern Gosdin and his heartbreak songs as well as for a number of classic heartbreak songs from various other artists. One of my particular joys in life is hearing my wife sing aloud, say, Patty Loveless’ “Nothing But the Wheel” while driving down the road. One of our favorite sad country songs is Randy Travis’ song “Promises.” In 1987 Randy Travis released the song on his “Forever and Ever, Amen” album. It is a quintessentially sad country song. It is called “Promises” but, in truth, it should be called “Broken Promises” because the song is all about a guy who cannot keep his promises to his wife. The song begins by painting a picture of a guy who keeps leaving his wife to go party. He goes to disreputable places with disreputable people and drinks and carouses while his wife is at home. Then, when we reach the chorus, we find him at home begging for her forgiveness and making promises that he will not keep.

And I’ll make promises…
promises to change.
I’ll make her promises,
swear I’ll rearrange,
and I’ll start giving all the
love she needs, if only she
will stay.

You can feel the weightlessness of these frantic promises even when you hear this chorus for the first time. You can tell that this is a cycle and that his promises simply are not really going to be kept! Then he speaks of his wife’s assurances to forgive and stay with him and of the temporal nature of those assurances.

Once again, she’ll reassure me.
And I believe her love will cure me,
and I’ll fall asleep with tears on my face.
And I know she’s just a woman,
and her love can’t last forever.
And someday soon, I know
she’ll leave without a trace.

For, broken promises will tear her dreams apart.
Just token promises will someday
break her heart,
and for the last time, she’ll hold me
when I cry, and while I’m sleeping…
she’ll quietly say goodbye…

Promises with no weight and a love that will not last: these are the makings of a great country song. In life, however, these are painful reminders of the fickle nature of human resolve and affection. Yes, all too often human beings prove themselves adept at hurting one another with broken promises. Broken promises do indeed tear our dreams apart!

There is One, however, whose promises will never be broken. There is One whose word is secure until the end of time. I am speaking of God and of His promises. At the end of Genesis 8 and then through Genesis 9, we read of God’s promise to the whole human race through Noah. This promise is called “the Noahic covenant.” A covenant is a binding promise or agreement between either God and all of humanity or God and His redeemed people.

Let us consider this point for just a moment. Some covenant promises apply to the whole world. Some apply only to God’s redeemed people in the world. I want to show you that the Noahic covenant is a covenant, a promise, that God makes with the world at large. We can tell that it is with the whole world, and not only with God’s people, by looking at the wording and the nature of it. David VanDrunen rightly points out four things about the Noahic covenant that let us know it applies to the whole world.

First, the common kingdom established by the Noahic covenant concerns ordinary cultural activities.

Second, the kingdom established by the Noahic covenant embraces the human race in common.

Third, the common kingdom established by the Noahic covenant ensures the preservation of the natural and social order.

Fourth, the common kingdom established by the Noahic covenant is put into place temporarily.[1]

This is true. The Noahic covenant is for the whole world, not merely for God’s own people. We should therefore see it as a divine covenant established with Noah after the flooding of the earth that was intended to set parameters around the human race, the animal kingdom, and the whole world. It is, then, a kind of “rebooting” covenant, a covenant that reestablishes the ground rules. It does not offer eternal salvation. Rather, it offers temporal marching orders to Noah and, by extension, to all of Noah’s descendants, that is, to the entire world. By “temporal” I simply mean that the Noahic covenant is in effect so long as the world exists.

Let us consider, then, this amazing promise, this amazing covenant. When God decided to give promises to the remnant of humanity that survived the flood and through whom the earth would be populated, what did He say? I would like to propose that the Noahic covenant is a covenant of restraint but also a covenant of fruitfulness and faithfulness.

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Genesis 8:1-20

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Genesis 8

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of 150 days the waters had abated, and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen. At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had madeand sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. But the dove found no place to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him. 10 He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. 11 And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth.12 Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore. 13 In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry. 14 In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth had dried out. 15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. 17 Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—that they may swarm on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” 18 So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. 19 Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by families from the ark. 20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 

I want to propose that one of the most important words in all of scripture is found in Genesis 8. In many ways it is one of those summarizing words that captures numerous fundamental themes of the Bible and that touches on various crucially important aspects of divine truth. The word in Hebrew is זָכַר. Transliterated, it is zakar. We find it in the first phrase of our text: “But God remembered Noah…” Zakarmeans “remember.”

“How,” you might ask, “could such a very ordinary word be so fundamental and important as you claim?” To get at the answer to this question we need to understand two very important things about zakar:

  1. It is an action word and not merely a mental word.
  2. It is a covenant word having to do with covenant faithfulness.

Understanding these two aspects of zakar can help us see that we are not talking about remembrance in terms of “calling something to mind.” Rather, we are talking about God’s faithful remembrance of His covenant promises leading Him to save His people. From the human perspective we are talking about humanity’s faithful remembrance of God’s salvation of us leading us to worship. In other words:

God remembers and therefore saves.

Man remembers and therefore worships.

In these two movements of zakar—God’s downward remembrance of salvation and mankind’s upward remembrance of worship—we see the whole of life! This is why the concept of zakar is so very important. This plays out beautifully in Genesis 8.

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Genesis 7

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Genesis 7

Then the Lord said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and his mate, and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and his mate, and seven pairs of the birds of the heavens also, male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth. For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.” And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him. Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth.And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after seven days the waters of the flood came upon the earth. 11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights. 13 On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark, 14 they and every beast, according to its kind, and all the livestock according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, according to its kind, and every bird, according to its kind, every winged creature. 15 They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. 16 And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And the Lord shut him in. 17 The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. 18 The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. 19 And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. 20 The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. 21 And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. 23 He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. 24 And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days.

There is a naïve belief held by some that ancient people were more naturally religious whereas modern people are more skeptical. In truth, the whole spectrum of belief and disbelief has been around in every age. Consider, for instance, the following comment by Tertullian, the 2nd/3rdcentury Christian writer, who wrote, “We get ourselves laughed at for proclaiming that God will one day judge the world.”[1]Imagine that: people have been laughing at the concept of divine judgment since the beginning of the Christian movement. And, tragically, many churches have capitulated to a desire to not be laughed at by simply jettisoning beliefs, like the reality of divine judgment, that some find off-putting. Thus, you can now find ostensibly Christian churches and Christian individuals who would “laugh” at the idea “that God will one day judge the world.”

This is unfortunate, because the thread of divine judgment has its rightful place in the tapestry of divine truth and it is excised only to the detriment of other doctrines that detractors profess to love. Think, for instance, of what it does to the cross itself if you cast out the idea of divine wrath of judgment. Why on earth would Christ come to die if not to save us from coming judgment? What is more, jettisoning divine judgment undercuts Christology as well insofar as it makes Jesus, who clearly believed in and taught the reality of judgment, a liar.

Yes, Jesus taught the reality of divine judgment. In fact, in Matthew 24, He pointed to the flood as the case study we should consider when trying to understand what His final judgement will be like.

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

This is most telling! It means that we should pay special attention to the realities and details of the flood in order to craft our theology of divine judgment, for the second coming of Christ will be like “the days of Noah.” What, then, can we conclude about divine judgment by considering the flood?

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Genesis 6:9-22

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Genesis 6

These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.12 And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 14 Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. 15 This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark 300 cubits, its breadth 50 cubits, and its height 30 cubits. 16 Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above, and set the door of the ark in its side. Make it with lower, second, and third decks. 17 For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. 19 And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every sort into the ark to keep them alive with you. They shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. 21 Also take with you every sort of food that is eaten, and store it up. It shall serve as food for you and for them.” 22 Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.

I love the old preacher story about the little boy who was in the Sunday School class when his teacher asked, “What am I? I am small, brown, furry, and like to scamper up trees. What am I?” After a pause the little boy said, “I know the answer is ‘Jesus’ but I’ll be dadgum if that doesn’t sound like a squirrel.”

It is funny because it does indeed seem like “Jesus” always is the answer, no? That is because, well, He is! Christians believe that Jesus is the answer to all the questions that really matter. We also believe that all of scripture points to Jesus. For this reason, throughout the church’s history, Christians have interpreted many Old Testament passages as types or pictures of the coming Christ. Sometimes these efforts have been solid and helpful, sometimes less so.

Earlier in the church’s history, there was a method of interpreting scripture that was very popular. It was the allegorical method. In this method, the interpreter takes, say, a story from the Old Testament and allegorizes it, or spiritualizes the details of it. In so doing, these interpreters said they were mining the deeper meanings behind the surface events of the stories. Most modern Protestants are very wary of allegorizing the Bible, and understandably so. After all, some of these allegorical interpretations can be downright strange and, most importantly, it is hard to know what the rails are that keep subjective allegory from plummeting off of a cliff into pure anachronistic subjectivity. An example of this kind of odd handling of the text might be Jerome’s interpretation of the measurements of the ark:

We read in Genesis that the ark that Noah built was three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. Notice the mystical significance of the numbers. In the number fifty, penance is symbolized because the fiftieth psalm of King David is the prayer of his penance. The hundred contains the symbol of crucifixion. The letter T is the sign for three hundred…No one marked with the sign of the cross on his forehead can be struck by the devil…Let us comment on the number thirty because the ark was thirty cubits high and finished above in one cubit…As a matter of fact, when Jesus was baptized, according to Luke, “he was thirty years of age.”…Fifty, and three hundred, and thirty were finished above in one cubit, that is, in one faith of God.[1]

Well, that all seems to be a bit much and to be a bit forced! Even given such fantastic allegorizing of the text, many Protestants argue that while they reject allegory they embrace typology, by which they mean that many Old Testament stories and images are types of Christ, or were pictures of the coming of Christ. And these folks will argue that the New Testament writers themselves used typology in their handling of the Old Testament.

The line between allegory and typology can get a bit blurry at times, but, in general, allegory is seen as less open to legitimate controls whereas typological readings are always pointing to Christ Himself.

I get the caution and the concern and to a certain extent I agree. However, it has been interesting to see how a number of modern readers of the Bible are saying that we have been too hard on the allegorical method and have noted that it was the predominant method of interpretation for many of the early church fathers. And, frankly, they have a point. While allegory can indeed be dangerous, we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

What is behind all of this, allegory and typology? Why not just interpret the Bible in a wooden literal sense at all times. Well, all responsible interpreters of the Bible agree that the immediate historical meaning, what is called “authorial intent,” the intent of the author in writing, is of primary importance. But here is the problem: we honestly believe that Jesus is the point of the whole story, from Genesis to Revelation. Furthermore, the person and work of Jesus are the apex and unsurpassable high point of God’s plan to save His people. So that means that everything having to do with salvation before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem must in some way be preparatory for the Christ and His cross.

In other words, there are passages of scripture that simply beg for us to see Jesus in them! Noah’s ark is certainly one of those passages. And, since the church’s beginning, interpreters of the Bible have seen Jesus and the cross of Christ in Noah’s ark.

A beautiful example can be seen in the 2ndcentury church father, Justin Martyr, who was born in the year 100 AD. In the 138thpart of his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin wrote this about the ark:

“You know, then, sirs,” I said, “that God has said in Isaiah to Jerusalem: ‘I saved thee in the deluge of Noah.’ By this which God said was meant that the mystery of saved men appeared in the deluge. For righteous Noah, along with the other mortals at the deluge, i.e., with his own wife, his three sons and their wives, being eight in number, were a symbol of the eighth day, wherein Christ appeared when He rose from the dead, forever the first in power. For Christ, being the first-born of every creature, became again the chief of another race regenerated by Himself through water, and faith, and wood, containing the mystery of the cross; even as Noah was saved by wood when he rode over the waters with his household. Accordingly, when the prophet says, ‘I saved thee in the times of Noah,’ as I have already remarked, he addresses the people who are equally faithful to God, and possess the same signs. For when Moses had the rod in his hands, he led your nation through the sea. And you believe that this was spoken to your nation only, or to the land. But the whole earth, as the Scripture says, was inundated, and the water rose in height fifteen cubits above all the mountains: so that it is evident this was not spoken to the land, but to the people who obeyed Him: for whom also He had before prepared a resting-place in Jerusalem, as was previously demonstrated by all the symbols of the deluge; I mean, that by water, faith, and wood, those who are afore-prepared, and who repent of the sins which they have committed, shall escape from the impending judgment of God.[2]

Justin argued that Noah’s ark pointed to Jesus in these ways:

  • Noah’s family represents all who are saved by God throughout time.
  • The eight members of Noah’s family who were saved represent the resurrection in that they represent the eighth day, or a Sunday, which is the day Jesus rose from the dead.
  • The repopulating of the earth after the flood represents the new race of people who are believers in Jesus Christ.
  • The water of the flood represents baptism.
  • The wood of the ark represents the cross.

To be honest, I love this! Question that interpretation as you will—and it is not beyond critique in some of its particulars—let us admit this: if Jesus is the point of the whole story and the apex of God’s plan to save lost humanity, all references to God’s saving work in the Old Testament will point to Jesus. Yes, we must be careful that we not over-spiritualize every…single…detail…but let us at least appreciate that even those church fathers and others did so from an admirable starting point: Jesus as the point of all scripture!

Whatever you want to call it—and I suspect typology would be best here—I believe that Noah’s ark does indeed point to Jesus and is, in many ways, like Jesus. Consider…

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All the “like some’s” of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian

blood-meridian-tSince I first read Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian some years ago I have been fascinated and at times bewildered by his amazing use of language. Honestly, his often obscure turns of phrase and his sometimes arcane words are one of the delights of the book. One of his favorite tools is the “like some” comparison. Having just finished Richard Poe’s Audible version of the novel, I was struck again by the vivid imagery of these “like some” statements. So I pulled up my Kindle version of the book and copied and pasted the thirty-something instances. (After creating this list I noticed a longer list of similes from Blood Meridian here that was compiled in 2017. Biblioklept includes all of the “like” similes whereas this list is only the “like some’s,” but check out that longer list as well.) Enjoy!

like some fairybook beast (p. 2)

like some wholly wretched baptismal candidate (p. 26)

like some demon kingdom summoned up or changeling land that come the day would leave them neither trace nor smoke nor ruin more than any troubling dream (p. 45)

like some reeking issue of the incarnate dam of war herself (p. 52)

like some deserter scavenging the ruins of a city he’d fled (p. 55)

like some heliotropic plague (p. 71)

like some great pale deity (p. 86)

like some loutish knight beriddled by a troll (p. 96)

like some instrument of ceremony (p. 101)

like some drunken djinn and resolve itself once more into the elements from which it sprang (p. 106)

like some fabled equine ideation out of an Attic tragedy (p. 110)

like some tatterdemalion guard of honor (p. 114)

Like some ignis fatuus belated upon the road behind them. (p. 115)

like some crazed defector in a gesture of defiant camaraderie (p. 132)

like some fabled storybook beast (p. 132)

like some third aspect of their presence hammered out black and wild upon the naked grounds (pp. 145-146)

like some strange vendor bound for market (p. 151)

like some reeking outland nurse (p. 153)

like some changeling (p. 155)

like some pale and bloated manatee surfaced in a bog (p. 163)

like some more ancient ossuary (p. 170)

like some terrible hatching (p. 207)

like some egregious saltland bard (p. 214)

like some queer unruly god abducted from a race of degenerates (p. 248)

like some storied hero (p. 264)

like some great balden archimandrite (p. 265)

like some wild thaumaturge out of an atavistic drama (p. 266)

like some scurrilous king stripped of his vestiture and driven together with his fool into the wilderness to die (p. 275)

like some medieval penitent (p. 275)

like some immense and naked barrister whom the country had crazed (p. 277)

like some dim neolithic herdsman (p. 282)

him like some mad dowser (p. 283)

like some naked species of lemur (p. 291)

like some monster slain in the commission of unnatural acts (p. 319)

Genesis 6:1-10

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Genesis 6

1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

In 1895 a 23-year-old Stephen Crane published a book of poems entitled The Black Riders and Other Lines. He was inspired to write his brief poems after being introduced to Emily Dickinson’s work. The Wikipedia page on the collection states that “Crane told friends that the poems came to him spontaneously and as pictures, saying, ‘They came, and I wrote them, that’s all.’”[1]The poems are provocative. Crane was an atheist and many of the poems reflect his anger at the idea of God or at God Himself. They are very interesting and many of them are memorable. Here is the ninth of the poems:

I stood upon a high place,

And saw, below, many devils

Running, leaping,

And carousing in sin.

One looked up, grinning,

And said, “Comrade! Brother!”[2]

From the first time I read that it stuck with me. I do not know how Crane intended for the poem to be interpreted, but it is very difficult for me as a Christian not to see a deep theological truth in these words: the world is fallen and the story of human history appears to grant legitimacy to Crane’s picture of a devil looking at a man and saying, “Comrade! Brother!” Human beings far too often do act like devils and the story of human history must tragically be seen ultimately to be what is called “a narrative of declension,” a story with a downward trajectory. We have already seen this in the way that the lineages of Cain and Seth are presented in the latter half of Genesis 4 and in Genesis 5. We see it to in the events leading up to the flood in Genesis 6.

In the first ten verses of Genesis 6 we see three portraits: of the many, of the One, and of the few.

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Genesis 4:17-Genesis 5

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Genesis 4

17 Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad fathered Mehujael, and Mehujael fathered Methushael, and Methushael fathered Lamech. 19 And Lamech took two wives. The name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. 20 Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. 22 Zillah also bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah. 23 Lamech said to his wives: “Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. 24 If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.” 25 And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” 26 To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.

Genesis 5

1This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Manwhen they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died. When Seth had lived 105 years, he fathered Enosh. Seth lived after he fathered Enosh 807 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died. When Enosh had lived 90 years, he fathered Kenan. 10 Enosh lived after he fathered Kenan 815 years and had other sons and daughters. 11 Thus all the days of Enosh were 905 years, and he died. 12 When Kenan had lived 70 years, he fathered Mahalalel. 13 Kenan lived after he fathered Mahalalel 840 years and had other sons and daughters. 14 Thus all the days of Kenan were 910 years, and he died. 15 When Mahalalel had lived 65 years, he fathered Jared. 16 Mahalalel lived after he fathered Jared 830 years and had other sons and daughters. 17 Thus all the days of Mahalalel were 895 years, and he died. 18 When Jared had lived 162 years, he fathered Enoch. 19 Jared lived after he fathered Enoch 800 years and had other sons and daughters. 20 Thus all the days of Jared were 962 years, and he died. 21 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. 22 Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters.23 Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. 24 Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him. 25 When Methuselah had lived 187 years, he fathered Lamech. 26 Methuselah lived after he fathered Lamech 782 years and had other sons and daughters. 27 Thus all the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died. 28 When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son 29 and called his name Noah, saying, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relieffrom our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” 30 Lamech lived after he fathered Noah 595 years and had other sons and daughters. 31 Thus all the days of Lamech were 777 years, and he died. 32 After Noah was 500 years old, Noah fathered Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

How is it possible that two sons born into the same family can end up so very different from one another? That is actually a question that researchers have looked into. In a very interesting NPR articled entitled “Siblings Share Genes, But Rarely Personalities,” three major theories were put forward:

Theory One: Divergence

“…[W]hen organisms compete,” says [Frank] Sulloway, “there tends to be a phenomenon…called the principle of divergence. The role of divergence is basically to minimize competition so it’s not direct. And that leads to specialization in different niches.”

So if one child in a family seems to excel at academics, to avoid direct competition, the other child—consciously or unconsciously—will specialize in a different area, like socializing…

Theory Two: Environment

The second theory has a slightly confusing name; it’s called the non-shared environment theory, and it essentially argues that though from the outside it appears that we are growing up in the same family as our siblings, in very important ways we really aren’t. We are not experiencing the same thing.

“Children grow up in different families because most siblings differ in age, and so the timing with which you go through your family’s [major events] is different,” says Susan McHale, a researcher at Pennsylvania State University. “You know, a parent loses a job, parents get divorced. If you are three or five years behind your sibling, the experience of a 5-year-old whose parents get divorced is very different from the experience of a 9-year-old or a 10-year-old.”

Also, McHale says, children in the same family are rarely treated the same by their parents, even if parents want to treat them the same.

“Children have different needs,” McHale says. “They have different interests. They have different personalities that are eliciting different treatment from parents.”

Theory Three: Exaggeration

The final theory is the comparison theory, which holds that families are essentially comparison machines that greatly exaggerate even minor differences between siblings.

Imagine, says McHale, two friendly children born in the same family. “One of those children is incredibly extroverted, and the other is just very sociable,” says McHale. In the context of any other family, says McHale, the second child would be considered an extrovert. “But in this family,” says McHale, “she’s the introvert.”

And once the introvert label is assigned—even if in an absolute sense it’s not really true—it influences the choices that the child makes.

“And so we pick different groups of friends, we spend our time in different ways that only reinforces what may have been a very small difference to begin with,” McHale says. “And, you know, once you get these forces feeding on one another, differences escalate over time.”[1]

Again, all of this is very intriguing, and I have no doubt that many of us in the room today have our own theories about how the divergent paths of children coming from the same home come to be, but I would like to consider that second principle a little closer, the principle of divergence. There may indeed be something to this idea that human beings take divergent paths to “avoid direct competition,” but there is another option. I am speaking of the option of removing your competition all together.This is the path that Cain took. He simply killed Abel when he sensed, in his mind, competition. Even so, in the latter half of Genesis 4 we find something very interesting: God gives Eve another son, Seth, who, she said, would took the place of slain Abel, and the divergent paths continued anyway.

The descendants of Cain and the descendants of Seth represent divergent paths, two paths, two approaches to life. These sons, born to the same parents, represent two ways of living life and two ways of viewing God and God’s role in our lives. These divergent paths coming out of the first family have been recognized throughout Christian history. For instance, Augustine of Hippo, in the 4th/5thcentury, observed:

We have two lines of succession, one descending from Cain and the other from the son who was born to Adam in order to be the heir of Abel who was killed and to whom Adam gave the name of Seth…Thus it is that the two series of generations that are kept so distinct, the one from Seth and the other from Cain, symbolize the two cities with which I am dealing in this work, the heavenly city in exile on earth and the earthly city, whose only search and satisfaction are for and in the joys of earth.[2]

Later, Konrad Pellikan, the 15th/16thcentury German Protestant reformer and Hebrew scholar, wrote:

Cain is the patriarch of all the impious, the first stone in the edifice of the city of the devil, the archetype of the sons of this world who do not believe in God, who blaspheme his judgments, persecute their neighbors, envy their brethren’s good fortune and despair of the mercy of God. But Abel, according to the testimony of Christ, is the first righteous one, the ancient church’s first martyr for the sake of righteousness, chosen by God through faith and charity, and his works were accepted on that account.[3]

And here is one more example. The 16thcentury Anabaptist Dirk Phillips put it in these terms:

…from that time on two kinds of people, two kinds of children, two kinds of congregations have existed on earth. They are, namely, God’s people and the devil’s children. God’s congregation and…assembly of Satan…[4]

Two sons. Two paths. Two ways of doing life.

Here is my thesis: everybody in this room today is on one of these two paths right now, at this very moment.The important thing is to understand this and to see which path you are on.

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Genesis 4:8-16

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Genesis 4

8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

I have long loved John Steinbeck’s novel, East of Eden. I personally think it is better than The Grapes of Wrath, but that is just me. There is an amazing scene in the novel in which three men—Samuel Hamilton, a man named Adam, and Adam’s Chinese cook, Lee—discuss the story of Cain and Abel. They wrestle with trying to understand what it means.

“Two stories have haunted us and followed us from our beginning,” Samuel said. “We carry them along with us like invisible tails—the story of original sin and the story of Cain and Abel. And I don’t understand either of them. I don’t understand them at all but I feel them. Liza gets angry with me. She says I should not try to understand them. She says why should we try to explain a verity. Maybe she’s right—maybe she’s right.”

After getting a Bible and reading Genesis 4, the men discuss the meaning of it. Samuel Hamilton offers this explanation of God’s rejection of Cain’s offering and then Cain murdering Abel.

Samuel said, “There’s an advantage to listening to the words. God did not condemn Cain at all. Even God can have a preference, can’t he? Let’s suppose God liked lamb better than vegetables. I think I do myself. Cain brought him a bunch of carrots maybe. And God said, ‘I don’t like this. Try again. Bring me something I like and I’ll set you up alongside your brother.’ But Cain got mad. His feelings were hurt. And when a man’s feelings are hurt he wants to strike at something, and Abel was in the way of his anger.”[1]

It is a charming attempt at an interpretation—God simply preferring lamb to carrots—but as we saw last week the scriptures actually do explain why God rejected Cain’s offering (i.e., Cain not bringing his best, Cain not having the faith of Abel, Cain being self-focused). Even so, I suspect Samuel’s homey explanation of the murder itself is probably correct. Let us hear it again:

But Cain got mad. His feelings were hurt. And when a man’s feelings are hurt he wants to strike at something, and Abel was in the way of his anger.

Yes, perhaps it is just that simple: Cain got mad, Cain wanted to hurt something, and Cain’s eye fell on Abel. We can be sure that Cain’s wrath at Abel is stoked to a red fury by God’s favoring of Abel’s offering. So, he seeks Abel out and he kills him. Indeed, as Samuel Hamilton says, we carry this story around with us like an invisible tail. It does haunt us. It frightens us. Why? What is its abiding significance?

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Genesis 4:1-7

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Genesis 4

1 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”

I am always intrigued by what people do NOT name their babies in America. You do not, for instance, meet many baby Adolfs here. You do not meet many Benedict Arnolds. You do not meet many Judases. Imagine if, at the child dedication service on Mother’s Day, we went down the line of beautiful little children and read these names: “This is little Charles Manson. And this is little Jezebel. And this is little Mussolini. He weighs 6 lbs and 7 oz.!” Can you imagine? Everybody would be thinking, “What in the world are these parents thinking?!”

No, there are some names that are just too damaged to be used. It is almost like an etymological curse hangs upon them. Most people would find the bestowing of these names on a baby today to be at least bad form and at most cruel.

Here is another name that I have yet to see parents give a child: Cain.I am not suggesting there is nobody named Cain today. For all I know you may know somebody who was named that. But I do not. At the least we can say that it has to be one of the more unpopular names, Cain.

So powerful is the imprint that misdeeds can leave on a name that I would wager many of you immediately had dark thoughts and feelings at the very mention of the name: Cain.

The story of Cain is a tragic story. There is some insinuation that Eve might have realized that Cain was going to be a disappointment in the way she named her second son, Abel. When Eve gave birth to Cain she said, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” The word for man is ish: “I have gotten an ishwith the help of the Lord!” This is not the word that is used of baby boys. It is used here because of Eve’s astonishment and sense of overwhelmed amazement that just as God had created a man, Adam, now she had been privileged to assist in the creation of another ish: “I have gotten an ishwith the help of the Lord!”

Eve begins, then, with jubilation and astonishment! She has high hopes for Cain! However, in the very next verse we read the understated, “And again, she bore his brother Abel.” It is not just that the birth announcement of Abel is much less dramatic than that of Cain. It is also the naming of Abel.

The name Abel means “vanity or weakness” or “vapor,” something temporary, something doomed not to last.  Clyde Francisco has observed that some believe the name “Abel” may reflect Eve’s disappointment at realizing that Cain would not be the hero God had spoken of who would crush the head of the serpent when she realized Cain’s “stubborn nature even as a baby.”[1]Remember: she named Abel “Abel” obviously before Cain committed his great crime. This means that there was something in the boy Cain that led her to move from the elation of her initial announcement—“I have gotten an ish!”—to such a situation of despair that she called her second son “vapor.” Was calling Abel “vanity” or “vapor” a self-condemning statement of her own vanity in thinking that Cain could be the promised one or was the idea that of “weakness,” both her own, her children’s, her husband’s, and the whole human race’s, in the light of this frustration?

Even so, Cain falls far from Eve’s initial grand hopes and becomes for us a chilling cautionary tale of what happens when we turn from God.

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Genesis 3:14-24

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Genesis 3

14 The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on 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 offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” 16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but 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 pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for 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 in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work 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 that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

A few days ago my brother sent me a picture of a large snake slithering across the dirt rode down which he had been traveling. It appears to be a Kingsnake. My brother observed that he had stopped his car to watch the snake cross the road in front of him. I observed in reply that, if I were him, I would continue to watch the snake from inside the car!

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It was a poignant reminder for me as I prepared to preach on our text. Adam and Eve have sinned against God. Eve gave ear to the devil, who, in the garden, came to her in the form of a serpent. And Adam had listened to Eve. Thus, they fall.The Fall is one of the most crucially important truths of all scripture. The Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck put it in these terms:

…the Fall is the silent hypothesis of the whole Bib[lical] Doctrine of sin and redemption; it does not rest only on a few vague passages, but forms an indispensable element In the revelation of salvation. The whole contemplation of man and humanity, of Nature and history, of ethical and physical evil, of redemption and the way in which to obtain it, is connected in Scripture with a Fall, such as Gen. 3 relates to us.[1]

I could not agree more. The Fall is indeed “the silent hypothesis” of scripture. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that the Fall is one of the most attacked and dismissed doctrines in the church today. This is a tragedy, for if we lose the doctrine of the Fall we lose a key component of the overall message of scripture. For this reason we should pay special attention to what scripture says about the result of Adam and Eve’s sin.

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