I have been studying Genesis lately. And through studying, I’ve been finding answers to questions that have puzzled me. With the aide of John Walton’s NIV Application Commentary, I’d like to present some of the answers that have made sense to me.
Question 1 based on Genesis 2-3: If God, being all-knowing, knew that Adam and Eve were going to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the first place, why did God put it there? Isn’t that rather like dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit’s face?
An Answer: Yes. That would seem so. But what if the tree of the knowledge of good and evil wasn’t a tree at all, but the symbol used to describe what kind of life God offered Adam and Eve in the garden. “You may live in this garden with me, and I will teach you day by day about what is good and what is evil. Or you may choose to try to understand what is good and evil without me. I’m telling you now, don’t try it that way. That way leads to death.” The tree, though perhaps also a physical tree to Adam and Eve, represents the unique gift of freewill given to mankind. And when creatures are given freewill, they have the option to choose a life without God. Adam and Eve chose to try living without God.
Question 2 based on Genesis 4: What was so wrong about Cain’s sacrifice?
An Answer: Who knows? Theories exist that try to answer that question, but the text doesn’t. What the text does say is how Cain allows sin to take mastery over him so that he kills his brother and doesn’t take responsibility for his actions. Cain seems to be the first example post-fall of how mankind’s idea of right and wrong is falling apart. Without a relationship with God, Cain is ruled by sin and its desires. “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. It’s desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7 ESV). Instead of ruling and subduing, mankind is being ruled by sin and its desires.
Question 3 based on Genesis 4-6: What was so bad about mankind that God decided to wipe them out with a flood?
An Answer: Wouldn’t we like to know. Unfortunately the bible has more to say about God’s remedy to mankind’s sin, then he does the sin. However Genesis does tell us:
- That people were bragging about how bad they were as seen through Lamech’s boast to his wives about killing a man (Genesis 4:23-24)
- And that sin became institutionalized when the leaders, i.e. the strongest men, set a behavioral example by taking any woman they wanted. This was a society where the men of renown decided that whatever they wanted was good. There is no fear of punishment or of the Lord. (Genesis 6:1-5)
Question 4 based on Genesis 6: But to kill everyone on earth except Noah, isn’t that a bit harsh? Why not just kill all the major perpetrators?
An Answer: If the pre-flood backwards way of thinking—“I can choose for myself what is good and evil without fear of punishment”—had penetrated all parts of society, men, women, young, old, then no one was innocent. I think the flood was a way of showing mankind that God isn’t one to just let sin go unpunished. In addition to this, the flood freed everyone from this oppressive life, both the oppressors who were enslaved to their appetites, and the oppressed who would be stuck repeating the injustices done to them to their children.
Question 5 based on Genesis 6:6-7: If God regretted that he’d made mankind, why’d he do it in the first place? Didn’t he know this was going to happen?
Answer: John Walton argues that no English word exists for this regret that God is expressing. He says it is most like an imbalance in accounting. Sin is always balanced by justice or grace. At the time of the flood the scales were out of balance and God was putting the scales back into balance.
Question 6 based on Genesis 9: What was so bad about Ham seeing his father, Noah, naked? Did that really amount to a curse?
Answer: “To uncover his father’s nakedness” is a phrase used in Leviticus 20:11 to describe a man sleeping with his mother. Thus, when Ham saw his father naked, he may have seen both his parents in a drunken state after making love. Ham’s wickedness was to invite his brothers to look at and sleep with their naked mother. That was why Ham’s brothers walked into the tent backwards; so that they wouldn’t see their mother naked. And the curse that Noah put on Ham’s descendants wasn’t necessarily a curse from God, but rather an expression of Noah’s anger at learning what his youngest son had done. That curse also happens to foreshadow the fate of Ham’s descendants.
Question 7 based on Genesis 11: What was so bad about building a tower and wanting to make a name for themselves? And what was the point of mixing up their languages?
Answer: The building of the Tower of Babel was the establishment of bad religion. The tower was a way of seeing to God’s needs so that mankind could draw upon God’s power to serve them as they wished. This was a way of humanizing God. John Walton gathers this information from ancient studies of the time and culture surrounding the ziggurat towers. The sin wasn’t necessarily about making themselves great, but the depravity that would come about through this established false view of God. “If they do this, no depth of depravity will be beyond them” (Abby’s translation of Genesis 11:6). Confusing their speech, while it didn’t stop future civilization from giving their gods human traits, did make thousands, or perhaps, millions of different versions of what those gods were like. Perhaps—and this is Abigail Steven’s talking here not John Walton—perhaps confusing their languages stopped mankind from deciding what the ultimate God was like and instead caused mankind to make up what their gods (little “g” and plural) were like.
Question 8: Why does the God of Genesis seem like he’s just reprimanding people left and right for things that don’t seem to be that big of a deal?
Answer: Obviously what God thinks is bad is different than from what we think is bad. What God addresses in Genesis—Adam and Eve’s taking the fruit, Cain’s murder, mankind’s choice of right and wrong, and Babel’s bad religion—tells us something about God. It tells us what God saw as being detrimental to mankind: our disregard for sin and our inaccurate view of him. While you and I may think that killing is the worst possible treatment of mankind (as seen in the flood), God doesn’t. It seems that God is saying that what happens to our physical bodies isn’t as bad as what can happen to our minds.
In Genesis we see how mankind decided to learn good and evil without God and how that choice destroyed our relationship with God. Without that relationship, civilizations view of right and wrong went to the dogs and with it, their right view of what God was like. Thus, God planned to reveal himself to us, and more specifically through the people of Israel.