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Deuteronomic Understanding of Genesis

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By large-hammer - Posted on 18 January 2004

by Marcus Booker
If there's any principle on which Preterism hinges and for which it stands, that principle is original audience relevance and its centrality to interpretation. Yet audience relevance applies to more than just the apostolic timetexts and imminent expectations of judgment and vindication. The principle extends to every part of the Scriptures, from the prophets to the Psalms, to Genesis, to everywhere. In Genesis, in particular, it seems as if expositors often neglect this principle. If there's any principle on which Preterism hinges and for which it stands, that principle is original audience relevance and its centrality to interpretation. Yet audience relevance applies to more than just the apostolic timetexts and imminent expectations of judgment and vindication. The principle extends to every part of the Scriptures, from the prophets to the Psalms, to Genesis, to everywhere. In Genesis, in particular, it seems as if expositors often neglect this principle. The question should arise, in the beginning of Genesis, "Why does Moses speak of the creation of these things in particular?" and "How does this account fit in to the historical setting in which Moses and the Israelites found themselves?"

In order to answer these questions, it would be wise to consult with the other writings of Moses that were contemporary with Genesis.

My contention is that the point of the beginning of Genesis is to demonstrate the following:

YHVH is greater than all the gods of the nations. He made heaven and earth and all things in them, and they exist to uphold His covenant purposes. Do not be idolatrous, or you will be thrust from the land where you are about to enter. If you keep His covenant, it will go well with you, and you will live long in the land.

Of course, while most people would recognize this theme in Deuteronomy or in other places, they would not see it apparent in Genesis, especially in the beginning chapters.

I will endeavor to prove, however, that the foregoing summary is indeed the point of the creation and fall account.

First, I will compare Deuteronomy 4 with Genesis 1. In reading the following, try to think of Genesis in light of Deuteronomy, rather than Deuteronomy in light of Genesis.

Deuteronomy 4 says, "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today...." Genesis 1 says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

Deuteronomy 4 says, "So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day YHVH spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourself in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the heaven, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters below the earth. And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which YHVH your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven."

It is apparent, from this text, that the foregoing things were the common idols that Israel and the nations were wont to serve. They made graven images of created things and bowed down to the host of heaven. In other words, Moses' creation account is not arbitrary in its selections (or accounts) of what God is creating. Moses (and God's spirit) did not select these things without reasons meaningful to the original audience. It is an effort to show YHVH's superiority over the gods of the nations when Genesis 1 speaks of God creating "male and female" (v. 27); "beasts of the earth" (v. 24); "birds [that] fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens" (v. 20); "creeping things" (v. 24); "fish of the sea" (v. 28); "the greater light [sun]...the lesser light [moon]...[and the] stars also" (v. 16).

Moses attempts to show that these same things serve God's covenantal purposes rather than the idolatrous purposes for which they thitherto had served.

Foremost, God shows that He is in control of the heavens and the earth. They are witnesses and enforcers of his covenant. Everything in them also serves as witness.

In Deuteronomy 28, for instance, a curse of disobedience is that the carcasses of the rebellious generation will be food for all the "birds of the heaven" and the "beasts of the earth."

God also uses the sun, moon and stars to accomplish his covenant purposes. In Genesis, it says, "let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years." These words hint at the days and seasons of observance under the law of Moses, the covenant with Israel. It is interesting that Paul, in Galatians 4, speaks of those seeking to remain under the bondage of the law as observing "days and months and seasons and years." Also, in Genesis 2:3, the text makes explicit reference to the Sabbath, the seventh day that was sanctified.

So, Genesis is saying, as does Deuteronomy 4:39, "Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that YHVH, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other. So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, that you may live long on the land which YHVH your God is giving you for all time."

Even the land of promise is in Genesis. Indeed, the parallels between Adam and Israel are striking. God sets before Adam two things, the "tree of life" and "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" which brings death. The former is the blessing, continued presence in the land given unto Adam. The latter is the curse, upon the serpent, upon the woman (in childbirth) and upon the ground/earth.

Similarly, Moses says to Israel, in Deuteronomy 30, "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse."

Adam had eaten from the tree, "which I [God] commanded you not to eat" (Gen 3:11). Moses warns the people of the curse if they would not obey YHVH their God by keeping His commandments and His statutes "which He [God] commanded you" (Deut 28:45).

Adam was to "be fruitful, multiply, and fill the land, and subdue it." So too was Israel to do the same. Observance of the statutes was so that they might "live and multiply" (Deut 30:16). The blessings are about fruitfulness (of crops, of cattle, of people, etc), which leads to multiplication. Israel also, according to God's command (parallel to His command to Adam) was to fill the land and subdue it by conquering their foes.

It is apparent, then, that Adam and his situation, as recounted by Moses, was relevant to the Israelites who were about to enter the land. He served as a warning and as a lesson to them. Adam had life and death, the blessing and the curse, a law set before him. He violated that law and therefore subjected himself to expulsion/exile from the land in which God had set him to live. The text says of Adam, "He [God] drove the man out" (Gen 3:24). Deuteronomy 28:63 warns that "you will be torn from the land...."

The lesson for Israel was to heed the commands and remain in the land forever under the prosperity afforded by God and His covenant blessings. They were to guard themselves from idolatry and not to eat of the fruit of it (though it may be, like the forbidden tree, "good for good," a "delight to the eyes" and "desirable to make one wise"). Israel was not to be cast out, as was Adam. They were to fill the land and subdue it. They were to abandon the gods of the nations and their graven images (likenesses of calves, male and female likenesses, images of beasts/birds/fish, sun/moon/stars, etc.). YHVH created all of these things, and they exist to advance and to serve His covenant purposes (not to worship). Heaven and earth are his covenantal witnesses. So too are the beasts of the earth and birds of the heaven part of this witness. They punish, according to God's beckoning, for disobedience to the covenant. And the sun, moon and stars exist for New Moons, for Sabbaths and for the days and seasons that God had established for observance under His covenant.

God was the great separator. He separated light from darkness, the land from the water, and He had separated Israel from the nations (as a distinct and holy nation).

YHVH had raised up Adam from the dust. To come up from dust is to be exalted (as per Psalm 113:7-8). Like Adam, Israel was about to be lifted up from out of the dust, exalted among the nations. Yet Adam, in disobedience, returns to the dust whence he came. So too does circumcision become uncircumcision for the lawless nation. The holiness, the distinction, the separation, the exaltation of Israel is done away by idolatry. They become like all of the rest of the nations; they return to the dust. This understanding too serves as a warning to Israel.

The warnings of Deuteronomy share the same purpose as Genesis' warnings (embodied in Adam and Eve). Genesis indeed speaks the same word as Deuteronomy and the other books of the law. The message is timeless; it has perpetual applications. Nevertheless, the message is only properly timeless when readers regard first the timely (or time-specific) meaning. We must initially read and understand the text, as well as possible, as would the original audience in their peculiar setting. When done, Genesis, like all other books in the Scriptures, becomes much richer and deeper. It actually becomes more and not less relevant for today when we consciously consider the context in history. [Otherwise, the text is misunderstood both for today and for the ancients].

May Genesis be always understood from the eyes of things bygone, from the perspective of the past, and from the preteristic viewpoint. Yet may we always know also, as a more challenging feat, how to faithfully apply it (and all sacred history for that matter) to our own time and circumstances. Let it forever be so. Let history continually have meaning for today.

Marcus Booker

JRP's picture

Great observations Marcus. Very informative.

But boldness without truth will never make a Christian confessor: and if a man injures himself for the love of error, he is not a martyr but a suicide. William A. Jones

davo's picture

Marcus, thanks for a really great article with lots of good stuff to think about.


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