Thursday, May 7, 2009

GENESIS 4:26 - Calling or Contaminating? Cross-examining the Bible

To Seth, to him also a son was born; and he called his name Enosh. Then men began to call upon the name of the LORD.


This verse seemed simple enough: Seth is born, represents a fresh start of sorts for humanity - a good guy, gives birth to a son (Enosh) who is connected to a spiritual revival.

My goal was to simply clarify what "then men began to call upon the name of the LORD" was supposed to mean. After all, Adam & Eve spoke openly to God back in the garden of Eden and Eve herself praises Him following Abel's birth in Genesis 4:1 ("'I have gotten a manchild with the help of the LORD'").

...Or Contaminating?

NOTE: The majority of the post hereafter comes from the article "Enos' Legacy: Owning God" from the Grace Bible Church. I've only quoted snippets to get my points across, but I'd encourage you to read the whole thing as it contains many more nuggest of gold.

For a guy who seems to be leading the people back to God, you'd expect Enosh to have a good strong name indicative of his role. Instead, a translation of the root word for his name reveals it to mean: weak, sick, frail, and feeble. What?! Don't look now, but the translatory surprises have only just, began...
In Genesis 4:26 “began” is the translation of the Hebrew word "chalal." This is a root word meaning "to profane, defile, pollute." In Exodus 20:25 we read: "And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it." Here "polluted" is the same word translated as "began" in Genesis 4:26. [...]

This verse does not record when men began to truly worship but this is when men began to call themselves or their gods by the name of the Lord. [...]

Additionally, it should be noticed that there does not appear to be any response from God to the supposed appeals of Enos and his fellow "worshippers." For more then 900 years, God is silent. Not until He decides to destroy the earth does He communicate with men and then only through Noah. So, it would seem that if the men in Genesis 4:26 are calling out to Jehovah, he is not willing to respond their request. [...]

What are we to learn from Genesis 4:25-26? We learn that Cain, at long last, has past off the scene and I think we are happy to see him go. [...] And, at first, as we read of Seth and Enos, our hopes are raised. Perhaps mankind has forsaken their sinfulness in favor of a life of holiness. But, alas, we have learned that our optimism is misplaced.
Cross-Examining the Bible

By interpreting verse 26 in such a way, I find myself in the awkward position of backing Jewish rather than Christian scholars. And while this verse isn't of the upmost importance in the grand scheme of things, I have to admit that the prospect of completely disagreeing with every single major Christian translation of this verse does shake my confidence in them.

That said, I consider the experience to be a positive one, regardless of whether or not someone does come along to prove me wrong on this particular point as it only reinforces the need for us to not simply take anyone's word about scripture - be it a Pastor's or Bible translation - for granted, but to examine the Scripture carefully for ourselves.

"...for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11)

(back to Genesis 4)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

GENESIS 4:23-24 - Lamech: Short, Significant, Settlement (Re-examining Polygamy)

Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah,
Listen to my voice,
You wives of Lamech,
Give heed to my speech,
For I have killed a man for wounding me;
And a boy for striking me;
If Cain is avenged sevenfold,Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”


Tucked in-between the better-known stories of the fall and the flood is a short - 3 verses in total - yet significant mention of a man named Lamech: the first-ever polygamist (verse 19, mentioned in my previous post), second-ever murderer, and first recorded poet of sorts.


As if the reason for the inclusion of these verses in Genesis weren't hard enough to interpret due to the complete lack of background or context, Lamech's exploits are not mentioned anywhere else in scripture or world history. Genesis 4 is all we have to work from.

I was initially caught off guard by the overwhelming condemnation of Lamech I found in most commentaries, not simply their disapproval but their over-exegesis:
  • They read his act as cold-blooded murder, I saw a text that didn't rule out self-defense.
  • They read his speech as boastful and oppressive to his wives, I figured this might have been how everyone talked at the time.
  • They saw verse 23's description of his son being a forger of bronze and iron to mean they were a family whom relied on metal weapons, I saw it as an excessive inference.
  • They saw his proclamation of vengeance to be a prideful twisting of God's word, I thought - assuming it was self-defense - it was a logical enough interpretation of God's word.
I decided to examine the word used for 'kill' (harag), having heard on multiple occasions that different Hebrew words are used for murder (malicious intent) versus killing (legal, accidental, self-defense etc.). The word, 'harag' is indeed the same one used to describe Cain's murder of Abel, however, a quick search of other instances in the old testament where it is used reveals the word's intent to be less clearcut than I had been led to believe (instances of 'harag'). In Exodus 4:23 for example, God Himself uses the term, "...and if thou refuse to let him go, behold,I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn."


In the end, the most compelling argument came not from anything in Lamech's speech but from the only other information offered to us earlier in the chapter - and the topic of my previous post - that he is a polygamist.

In taking a second wife, Lamech shows himself to be a distorter of God's word (Genesis 3:23 - " joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh."). In light of this, it would seem safe to say that we are meant to read his next ad hoc extrapolation of God's word - the promise of protection - to be wrong.

Re-examining Polygamy

Thus far we've determined that Genesis is a very concise book, and yet, between the major events of the fall and the flood, God finds space to include these miniscule details on a seemingly insignificant man's life. Why? Why not give us the straight facts about Lamech's killing like the Bible does a few verses earlier with the murder of Abel? Why only give us Lamech's twisted interpretation of the event? Obviously because that's all we need to know to get "the point". So what is the point? Well, it's simple enough to summarize what little we are told about Lamech:
  1. He was the first ever polygamist (Genesis 4:19)
  2. He misinterpreted God's word (Genesis 4:24)
So what does that say about polygamy? This to me seems to be the most compelling proof - short of the Word's direct commands - of God disapproval of polygamy from the beginning of time.

(As an aside, while reading up on interpretations of Genesis 4:23-24, every commentator I read agreed upon Lamech's speech being a complete misinterpretation of God's word, with the exception of this completely baffling interpretation by Saint John Chrysostom. History appears to have proven him to be a righteous and Godly man - a saint after all - but his interpretation seems so completely incompatible - and foolish - that I find it impossible to reconcile the two things. Insights are most certainly welcome on this)

(back to Genesis 4)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

GENESIS 4:19 - The First Polygamist? Numbers Syndrome

"Lamech took to himself two wives: the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other, Zillah"

The First Polygamist?

This marks the first mention of polygamy since creation - which most commentator have taken to imply that he was the first ever polygamist. And although it's never explicitly mentioned it seems to me a safe enough assumption given that Adah and Zillah are the only wives mentioned throughout this list of descendants (verses 17-22).

(This verse would take on added meaning in my next related post regarding Lamech)

Numbers Syndrome

I have to admit that I completely missed this point upon first reading. Why? Let's just call it "Numbers Syndrome".

When I first started this blog, I figured I'd crawl through question-laden books like Genesis but joked that I would likely blow right through a genealogy book like Numbers without being able to conjure up a single question.

In short, I missed this point because I had arrogantly (albeit subconsciously) decided that I knew better than God and was quite capable of deciding on my own which verses in the Bible required examination and which - in this instance, those on genealogy - could be skimmed over. That I caught myself doing this while reading for my blog whose expressed purpose is to carefully study the Bible line-by-line was an extremely humbling experience. By God's grace, I hope it's a lesson that I'll take to heart, especially when I get around to reading Numbers - which, at the rate I'm going, will also require a heaping amount of God's grace!

(back to Genesis 4)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

GENESIS 4:11-12 - Curses: How Fair?

“'Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.'”

FYI: I'm writing this post months following my original analysis of the verses which it's linked to (prompted by questions arising from reading about Cain's curse in Genesis 4:11-12).

Curses: How Fair?

Before addressing the specifics of the curse that God places upon Adam & Eve - which have been subsequently passed onto us - a more basic question I needed answered was the fairness of a hereditary curse in the first place. I can easily grasp the logic of punishing Adam for his sins, but how is it fair to disadvantage me (via a meddled-with-hand-me-down body and mind which has been perverted over the ages) for that?

So I decided to play a little make believe: imagine we had the benefit of being born with un-cursed flawless minds and bodies as God intended. We're now all equally free from internal flaws. But wait, those born in say, war-torn Africa, are still at a disadvantage from external influences. Fair enough, we'll transport our equally perfect bodies to equally perfect environments. We now have what is effectively Eden - and isn't that what we've been getting at all along? Let's continue and say that for every man, an identical but separate Eden is created, so alongside Adam on Earth A, God creates Mike on Earth B. On Earth A, well, we know how that turns out, but on Earth B, Mike's wife manages to resist Satan's temptations, warns Mike, and as a result they live happily ever after. An outside observer could still argue that Mike had it easier than Adam by virtue of his wife making the better decision and thus not "weighing the odds against his own free choice". Very well, we'll remove the last potentially "unfair" variable available: other people.

Success! At last, a universe in which we, oh wait, I mean you, can live and make your own decisions, removed from the dangers of other "unpredictable" people who might tilt the scales against you; it's the truly fair universe you've always wanted: sterile, surgically-controlled, and completely alone.

Admittedly, none of this haphazard reasoning got me any closer to an answer of my original question, but more importantly helped me bridge the gap between the seemingly contradictory ideas of a hereditary curse and God's absolute fairness.
C.S. Lewis - Mere Christianity: Morality and Psychoanalysis

The bad […] material is not a sin but a disease. […] And by the way, that is very important. Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices. […] When a man who has been perverted from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing, does some tiny little kindness, or refrains from some cruelty […] he may, in God's eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we gave up life itself for a friend.

[…] It is as well to put this the other way round. Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man's choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it. Most of the man's psychological makeup is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us : all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises.

C.S. Lewis - The Problem of Pain (p. 65)

It would, no doubt, have been possible for God to remove by miracle the results of the first sin committed by a human being; but this would not have been much good unless He was prepared to remove the results of the second sin, and of the third, and so on forever. If the miracles ceased, then sooner or later we might have reached our present lamentable situation: if they did not, then a world, thus continually underpropped by Divine interference, would have been a world in which nothing important ever depended on human choice, and in which choice itself would soon cease

Partiality, in the sense that objectors commonly use the word, is impossible in the sphere of grace. It can exist only in the sphere of justice, where the persons concerned have certain claims and rights. -Loraine Boettner

If by “fair” we insist on meaning that God be absolutely equitable in how He relates to, or gifts, every individual, then we end up with what may amount to an impossible criteria for even an omnipotent God. No two individuals - not even clones - could ever be given the exact same gifts and circumstances in life.
-Is God Biased?
(back to Genesis 4)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Human Rights Without God?

An article I read awhile back that I recently came across again. For me personally, it's one of the strongest arguments against atheism. The underlined sections below were put in by me for my own benefit. From the Chosunjournal by whatistoknow (originally posted July 18, 2001):

"If there is no God, everything is permissible." -Fyodor Dostoevsky

Let me first say how much I admire the zeal and courage of all the non-Christian human rights activists many of whom have no other relationship with N. Koreans except their shared humanity.

Having said that, let me also assert that I do not believe that the idea of human rights can cohere apart from a belief in God. The concept of 'human rights' itself is a secular attempt to derive the benefits sprung from the Judeo-Christian notion of human beings being made in the image of God. But since this humanistic effort ultimately fails, as I will try to show in this essay, I reject as a false dichotomy that The Chosun Journal or anyone else for that matter can promote basic human dignity for North Koreans apart from appealing to a standard established by God.

Recently Milosevich stood up to the judges in the Hague and defiantly lambasted, 'Who are you to judge me for violating human rights? This is an illegitimate proceeding and I do not accept its authority over me.' The judges sat there speechless. Of course they did. How else could they respond except for 'We won the war, you lost. That makes us morally right and you wrong.' Without a transcendent standard to appeal to, that's all morality can become, 'Might makes right.'

But the problem is the mighty are not always right. Take for example the recent revelation that a popular U.S. senator had killed more than a dozen women and children during the Vietnam war. Not only has Sen. Kerry not been prosecuted as a war criminal, the Bronze star he received for this action (albeit the atrocity was concealed at the time the award was given) has yet to be revoked.

But what about appealing to the universal declaration of human rights, or in short, 'Majority rules' morality? Well how does one measure the rules of the majority apart from appealing to rules that are not manipulated by politics or bound by the mores of a certain age?

Recently Sudan replaced the US on the UN human rights committee. The human rights community was shocked and felt an earthquake shaking under their foundations. A beacon of light had been taken over by a slave-trading nation. But they should not have been surprised. For man-made declarations are as reliable as the capriciousness of their authors. Charters and the like are always amended, deleted, or simply rewritten depending on who's in or who's out or what's in vogue at the time.

But significantly, this is not the case with the Bible whose Author is purportedly without change and whose pages have not been revised since their original authorship over 3,200 years ago for the Old Testament and over 1,900 years ago for the New Testament. Archaeological proof of the unchanging continuity of the earliest manuscripts compared with the versions we read now attests to this fact and attests to its unhuman-like (divine?) quality.

My question to the human rights activists who are not guided by the God revealed to humanity through the Bible is this: What moral compass guides you if not the eternal one? Your trustworthy hunch? Were not all the major atrocities committed by people who operated by their own sense of right and wrong? Didn't the defendants at the Nuremburg War Crimes trials offer plea after plea, 'My conscience is clear'? What makes your instincts more trustworthy than theirs?

If we've learned anything from this past bloody century rooted in optimistic philosophies of human nature, it is that man cannot be trusted. Man is selfish, narrow-minded, and apathetic. A few tyrants are not the only ones to blame for history's horrors. The blood of millions is also on the hands of the billions who have stood by in their self-imposed ignorance and rational self-interest while their neighbors get raped or hacked to pieces or gassed.

Man has been far more content in building memorials than in preventing atrocities. Sin of omission is just as wretched as sin of commission and we are all guilty of it and in need of salvation from it. How many Holocausts, gulags, killing fields, Rwandan massacres, Japanese rape camps, and deported N. Korean refugees do people need until they finally begin to yearn for the redemption of that human nature which makes people stand idly by allowing all of these horrors to occur?

I am not a believer by choice but by necessity. If there were any other way to promote human dignity and respect for one another besides by promoting monotheistic ethics, I quite honestly might accept it. But history has taught me otherwise. The rescuers in the Holocaust with few exceptions were people morally enabled by the Bible to transcend the 'majority rules' morality of their time. Read Martin Luther King Jr.'s powerful Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and again one sees the necessity of appealing to a transcendent unchanging moral standard to give one the authority not only to battle a racist society but to confront fallen human nature itself.

Of course this is not to say that there are no good atheists. Some prominent N. Korean human rights activists easily show the contrary. But how do they measure let alone promote moral progress? By relying upon the principle of might makes right? Or a changing declaration? Or a politically manipulated UN? Or fickle popular world opinion? Moral progress by definition requires a universal, unchanging, shiftless, non-contradicting standard which any person can rely on to know if he is headed in the right direction or not. Nothing man-made (or even polytheistically made) could meet these requirements.

The unique gift of the Jews to the world is a book that reveals the coherent principle of moral progress rooted in the idea of one moral transcendent standard set by one Supreme Being that does not change or contradict itself over time, political trends, or mood swings because He does not change or contradict Himself as people or 'the gods' have been prone to do.

Only this monotheistic Lawgiver could give the philosophical and emotional support for the moral progress we have already seen in history led by those with the Bible in hand and heart: the end of ritual infanticide, the abolition of slavery in much of the world, the promotion of universal education and gender equality, and the establishment of hospitals, all before they became politically correct, are just a few examples.

No doubt many will cry out, "Inquisition!" or "Crusades!" But again, what standard are you using to judge these as evil? Believers can condemn them as utter hypocrisy in violation of the fundamental law of God, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself.' But what authority do atheists appeal to in their condemnation that does not fall into the trappings I've outlined above?

Nevertheless I cannot blame people today for their misgivings of my proposal that N. Korea should adopt Christian principles as its moral foundation. All they have to base their opinions on is the secularized Christianity we have today. But even today God has His remnant which has refused to bend the knee to Baal. The hundreds of believers who rescued Jews are good examples. So is Christian Solidarity which had led the fight against slavery in Sudan before it became politically correct. So are several of the Korean missionaries in China now.

You may point to the complicity of the Roman Catholic Church in Nazi Germany or to the silence of several white churches in segregated America, but these are powerful examples for why we need the Church to be more like Christ rather than more like society. I'm a firm believer of the separation of Church and state for this very reason. God forbid we have a secularized church! But the world be damned if the state is not informed, guided, and kept in check by a healthy Church.

Therefore, I reject as a false dichotomy that The Chosun Journal can advocate for the human rights of North Koreans apart from advocating for a coherent standard by which such rights can be affirmed and promoted. If North Korea could enter an age where a majority of their citizens picked up the Bible and followed its decrees, as there was a time in a morally progressive America in which that was the case, the North Korean people will be far more assured of obtaining the basic freedoms that God had intended for them to enjoy than reliance upon any man-centered ideas.

Psalm 146

Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul.
I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them-- the LORD, who remains faithful forever.

He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The LORD reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the LORD.