Light from the Sidra

Bereshit (Machar Chodesh)

Genesis 1:1 - 6:8; Isaiah 42:5 - 43:12

The first chapters of the Bible are the most important for they lay the foundation of all that follows. Without the revelation of the nature and character of God in Genesis 1 we could not distinguish the true God from the countless idols worshipped by the nations. Without the Genesis account of the creation of man we would have no answer to King David’s question in Psalm 8, “What is man?” Apart from the third chapter of Genesis, the origin of evil would be an enigma to us forever.

The meaning of life, the origin of the universe, the problem of evil — issues that philosophers, religious thinkers and scientists have grappled with throughout the ages — are unfolded, not in the crass mythological language of ancient Egyptian and Babylonian texts, but in dignified, restrained prose.

“In the beginning God...”

When astronomer Carl Sagan commenced his classic TV series Cosmos with the words, “The Cosmos is all there is, all there has been and all there will ever be”, he was wrong. Before the cosmos existed there was God. The universe did not begin with a Big Bang. It began with a Divine Decree. It began with God.

The Bible does not begin with man and his problems. It begins with God; and the first chapter of Genesis reveals who God is. In the beginning all was “very good” because all began with God. The Torah begins with God, “I am Yahweh your God...”1 Redemption begins with God: “I am the God of your father ... I have surely seen the oppression of my people...”2. All that is good begins with God, “Always put God first, if you wish to be in harmonious relationship to God and to the world which he created.”3

God was before “the beginning”; he is uncreated and without beginning or end. He is almighty, capable of creating the universe by a word of command. He transcends the universe he created, yet is close enough to oversee the whole of his works from the largest galaxy to the smallest sub-atomic particle. He is the God who rules, who speaks, who judges and blesses his creatures. Little wonder that in the Haftarah, this majestic God says he will not give his glory to another or his praise to graven images.4

“What is man?”

Man is not a “naked ape” who evolved from a common ancestry with the primates. Made in the image of his Creator, there is a huge chasm in the created order between man and the rest of creation. There are similarities between humans and some other creatures but the “image of God” in man means that the resemblances can never be more than superficial. Regardless of age, colour, social group, physical characteristics or intellect, human beings bear the image of their Creator. They, above all other creatures, are capable of abstract reasoning, creativity, dominion and the enjoyment of fellowship with their Creator.

But great privilege carries great responsibility.

The Satanic Verses

In the Garden of Eden there were not 613 commandments. There were not even ten, or seven. The Torah consisted of but one commandment, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat”5. Though the first man and woman were perfect, made in the image of God, and though Eve fenced the Torah (she added the stipulation that they were not to “touch” the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, though God had forbidden them only to eat), when temptation presented itself she and her husband failed to be obedient and they died.

The temptation was threefold: the serpent incited Eve to doubt the truth of God’s word, to seek forbidden knowledge and to grasp at equality with God.

The temptation has a modern ring to it. The serpent promised, “You shall be as God”. Eve and her husband were already “as God”; they had been created in his image. The fruit of the tree, they were told, would enable them to know right from wrong without reference to God; it would provide them with the power of self-determination. Before she ever bit into the fruit Eve had sinned. The moment she “fenced the law” by adding to it, she had effectively decided that she knew better than her Creator. Her eyes would be opened, the serpent promised, and she would know good and evil. Her eyes were opened, only to discover she was naked.

Contrary to popular opinion, death is not “the end”. God declared that Adam and Eve would “die” on the day they ate the forbidden fruit, nevertheless they continued to live for hundreds of years after their transgression. Death, therefore, must be far more than cessation of being. On the day that the first man and woman ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they truly died: their relationship with their Creator, the source of all life was severed and they died spiritually.

A Tale of Two Humanities

The great irony of the cosmos is that everything God called into being obeyed him except the crown of his creation, man. After the sin of Adam, nothing could be the same again. There would be two types of human beings: the “seed of the woman” and the “seed of the serpent”, the godly and the ungodly, the people of God and the people of the evil one6. Beginning with Adam, humanity found itself on a downward slide: from Cain killing his brother over religion7 to Lamech, the seventh from Cain, boasting of his ability to avenge any insult to himself sevenfold8. Finally, the stage is reached where “every intent of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually”9.

Yet there is hope, for in Genesis God promises a Saviour who will overcome the serpent and, in the Haftarah he calls a Servant “in righteousness” to be “a light to the nations”. Some of Israel’s most respected rabbis recognised in the promise of the “seed of the woman” a reference to the Messiah10.

A Future and a Hope

The God who created the universe is the creator of Israel, says the prophet11. When the universe was completed it declared the glory of its creator. It was “very good”12. In the same way, God formed the people of Israel for his glory13, to be his witnesses14, to declare his praise15. Yet, in the life of the nation whom God chose, history repeated itself and, just as Adam rejected his maker, so Israel refused to be obedient to his Torah and suffered the consequences16.

The consequences of Adam’s disobedience were disastrous for the whole created order17. But even as God pronounced curses upon Adam and his descendants, he uttered a word of hope and consolation. From woman would come a “seed” that would undo all the evil of the serpent. The “seed of the woman” would crush the head of the serpent, in the process of which the serpent would strike his heel. Throughout the rest of biblical history this promise of a redeemer would be developed and clarified, particularly in the prophecy of Isaiah, where the seed of the woman is “God with us”18 and “the mighty God” who will “establish judgement and justice”19. In Isaiah 42 he is the righteous servant who will restore Israel and be a light to the Gentiles. Through this righteous servant God’s redemption will extend to all nations. The plan of God is to bring the whole of creation back into harmony by “the seed of the woman” who is “the servant of Jehovah”.

Pause for Thought

·       How does my concept of God match his description in Genesis 1? Do I give his glory to a graven image? Do I worship and serve the true God in whose image I am made, or have I made a god in my own image?

·     I am created by God. As he looks at my life, what is his judgement about me? Can he declare me “good”?

·          If all mankind is divided into the people of God and the people of the evil one, in which group am I?

·          Do I know enough about the righteous servant of God to be able to recognise him when he comes?

1. Exodus 20:1

2. Exodus 3:6-8

3. Milton B. Lindberg, Redemption According to Moses and the Prophets, page 9.

4. Isaiah 42:8

5. Genesis 2:16-17

6. Genesis 3:15

7. Genesis 4:1-8

8. Genesis 4:23-24

9. Genesis 6:5

10. “As Thou wentest forth for the salvation of Thy people by the hand of the Messiah, the Son of David, who shall wound Satan, the head, the king and prince of the house of the wicked.” (Rabbi David Kimchi).

Rabbi Tanchuma said in the name of Rabbi Samuel, "Eve had respect to that Seed which is coming from another place. And who is this? This is the Messiah, the King.” (Midrash Rabbah)

11. Isaiah 42:5, 43:1, 7, 21

12. Genesis 1:31

13. Isaiah 43:7

14. Isaiah 43:12

15. Isaiah 43:21

16. Isaiah 42:24

17. Genesis 3:16-19

18. Isaiah 7:14

19. Isaiah 9:6-7

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