If there is a grand lesson to be found in Genesis, amidst its horrors and atrocities, it is that God continually calls His people back to Him…

One would not be unjust in noting how unrelentingly violent and sexual the human person had become after the Fall in Eden. When God forces Adam and Eve to depart paradise, Eve becomes pregnant immediately, giving birth first to Cain, a farmer, and then, soon after, another son, Abel, who became a shepherd. Jealous of the way God welcomes Abel’s sacrifice, Cain believes himself to have been slighted and murders his brother. “Now you are accursed, and banished from the found which has opened its mouth wide to receive your brother’s blood, which you have shed,” God stated. Further, he promised Cain that when he farmed, the land would yield no fruit, and he would be forced to wonder the world an exile, never resting and never taking comfort from Creation. In essence, God’s punishment of Cain represents a second Fall, as God once again forces the sinner away from the land he had cultivated, just as he had done to Cain’s parents.

To prevent further vengeance upon Cain, however, God places a protective mark upon him, warning away those who would do him harm. In one sense, this is deeply merciful, but, in another, the mark even furthers Cain’s isolation and estrangement from the human community. Whether Cain still wanders the world to this day remains unknown and unanswered.

Fifty chapters long, the Book of Genesis recounts one sexual encounter after another as well as the violence done by one person against another. The reader finds himself either revolting against the seemingly relentless atrocities or becoming numb to them. If ever there was an argument against the dangers of the individual interpretation of scripture, this is it. In this litany of bloodshed and begetting, often has abusive and horrific as anything in the history of literature, compelling mysteries emerge. The stories and horrors as bad (or worse) as anything in the writings of other ancient greats such as Homer and Virgil or the moderns such as Stephen King. Perhaps, the writer(s) of Genesis intended to lay out exactly how terrible the Fall really is, but, as literature, the stories and excesses go over the top, suffocating the reader without giving him pause.

The most intriguing the variety of strange moments in Genesis is the brief mention of mythological beings known as the “Sons of God” who marry the “daughters of men.” Known as the Nephilim, these beings enter the story as quickly as they exit. Over the centuries, Jews and Christians have given this passage an inordinate amount of attention, wondering exactly what the “sons of God” were, and what they tell us about the nature of God and His Creation.

Some scholars have interpreted the “Sons of God” as fallen angels, while others have thought of them as Giants. Many scholars have argued that God unleashed the Flood to cleanse the world of the evils committed by and the offspring of the Sons of God.

The term, Nephilim, appears again several times in the Old Testament, referenced either directly or indirectly, in Numbers, Judith, Sirach, Baruch, and the Wisdom of Solomon. The longest discussion of them, however, comes from the non-canonical but widely respect Book of Enoch, referred to by St. Jude in his New Testament Epistle. Enoch, the son of Cain, presents them as demonic beings, taking advantage of human women, and producing an unholy generation. From the Book of Enoch, however, we also learn the names of the seven archangels, commissioned with defeating the “sons of god” and their wicked and unnatural spawn.

There are plenty of unusual elements to Genesis, however, without resorting to the blatant oddities of the Nephilim and their fathers. Many of the human men, for example, live upwards of 900 to 1000 years of age and often take multiple wives and mates.

After the Fall in Eden, three critical stories emerge: the story of the Tower of Babel; the story of Abraham and Sarah; and the story of Joseph.

In the first, as humanity recovers from the flood that God loosed upon the world to cleanse it of its sins, the children of Noah and their children attempted to build a tower to heaven. Fearing it the beginning of many such utopian ventures, “the Lord dispersed from here,” breaking them into various language groups so that they would remained divided against one another.

In the second story, God chooses Abram of Ur and his wife, Sarai, to become the father and mother of all nations, despite their advanced age. When God tells Abram (now, renamed Abraham) that his wife, Sarai (now, renamed Sarah) will have a child at the age of 90, the old man fell “on his face and laughed.” Yet, God lived up to his promise, while also establishing what would be known as the Abrahamic Covenant. All of the descendants of Abraham and Sarah must, to keep the covenant, circumcise each male child on the eighth day, thus symbolizing eternity as well as sanctifying (again) the pro-creative trajectory and purpose of Genesis 1 and 2.

The final critical story of Genesis is the story of Joseph, a brilliant young man betrayed and sold into slavery by his brothers. Through skill and an indomitable spirit, Joseph works his way out of slavery, becoming one of the most respected figures in and under an Egyptian pharaoh. Indeed, in a wonderful twist of fate, Joseph comes to hold the very lives of those who betrayed him in his own power of life and death. Reflecting the God of the Hebrews and the continual desire of the Lord to make peace with his people, Joseph forgives those who had harmed him, bringing good faith back to his family.

Indeed, if there is a grand lesson to be found in Genesis, amidst its horrors and atrocities, it is that God continually calls His people back to Him. Certainly, He punishes transgressions, but he also reworks His agreements with His people, bringing them back to right order again and again. Still, after each forgiveness, men fall yet again.

The is the first essay in Bradley J. Birzer’s “Western Odyssey” series.

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