Ordered and Now Populated

In days one to three the creation, originally formless and void, was ordered for fruitfulness culminating in the sprouting of vegetation – both grasses and trees. Now it is populated to fulfill God’s purpose. Michael LeFebvre (The Liturgy of Creation) notes:

The God of creation is a being of wisdom, goodness, and beauty. But he is supremely a God of love. Having ordered the world with a capacity for fruitfulness, God next fills it with creatures whom he blessed to enjoy those fruits. (p. 167)

Day four: The sun and moon to govern time and seasons.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day. (v. 14-19)

Light is created on day one, plants appear on day three, but it is only on day four after three cycles of evening and morning that the sun and moon are placed in the expanse. Clearly the purpose of this passage is not a scientific recounting of the creation of the earth. This is not a conundrum revealed by modern science. Early Christians also found it rather confounding. LeFebvre notes the considerations of Augustine and Origen in their writings on Genesis. In the early 200’s AD, Origen wrote:

For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? … I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally. (from the Greek, p. 365, Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 4)

Continue reading

Posted in Creation, Genesis | Tagged | Leave a comment

Ordered for Fruitfulness

These texts were written to guide the common worshiper in weekly life, not to plant “bread crumbs” for scientific researchers. (p. 149)

The overarching argument of Michael LeFebvre’s recent book The Liturgy of Creation is summarized by the above quote. Having set up the argument in the Pentateuch in general and explored briefly the focus of Genesis 1:1-2:3 it is time to dig into the text. Today the focus is on days 1-3, Gen. 1:1-13.

Prologue:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (vv. 1-2)

Although some Christians see creation from nothing affirmed and described in the opening verse of Genesis, many others have argued that this is not the intent of the verse. Other passages of Scripture affirm that God created everything and it all exists only through his sustaining providence. However, this is not the purpose of Genesis 1. LeFebvre agrees and notes that 1:1 and 2:1 (Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.) serve as bookends for the creation narrative of 1:3-31.Verse 2 describes the state of the earth as God prepares it for fruitfulness and habitation – it was formless, empty, and dark. Nothing but water.

Day one commences the creative work in Genesis 1.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. (vv. 3-5)

The light is good. Without light plant and animal life cannot thrive. Thermophilic bacteria are about it – drawing energy from deep sea heat vents. LeFebvre suggests, however, that this focus of day one is not on light, but on the institution of the day as a cycle of light and dark. A day is the fundamental unit of the calendar narrative. He also notes that the translation above calling it “the first day” misses the point. It isn’t just the first day – here the unit of one day is defined.

Day two separates the waters above from the waters below, making space for fruitfulness. Continue reading

Posted in Creation, Genesis | Tagged

Follow the Plot

The creation week of Genesis 1-2:3 is a culturally situated historical calendar narrative designed to lead God’s people in God’s ways. So argues Michael LeFevre in his recent book, The Liturgy of Creation. Many people, both Christians and Jews, have noticed and commented on the structure of Genesis 1 (including 2:1-3). The six days of creation have a parallel structure 3+3 followed by a day of rest. LeFebvre writes this form as an equation (3+3)+1=7.

The six days of creation followed by the sabbath day of rest shape Genesis 1. Exodus 20:8-11 makes this explicit.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. … For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

While it is common to view the reference in Exodus 20 as a recounting of Genesis 1, LeFebvre suggests that it isn’t this simple. Genesis 1 is a calendar narrative setting a rhythm for human for human stewardship of God’s creation as his image bearers. “Everything revealed about the wisdom and beauty of God in his labors during those six workdays is a model for human stewardship of the created order.” (p. 137)  The seventh day is “a holy day for the image bearers to commune with the creator.” (p. 137)

Continue reading

Posted in Genesis | Tagged

Thinking About God When the World Goes Crazy

Tremper Longman III and John Walton teamed up to write short book How to Read Job. This book is a useful guide to reading Job – raising as many questions as it answers – and a lot shorter and more readable than their rather formidable commentaries on the book. The book of Job is theological wisdom literature that addresses the question “How should we think about God when the world goes crazy?”

How should we think about God when plagues, pandemics, pestilence, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, typhoons, and floods hit; when evil appears to conquer good and God-fearing people suffer at the hands of unscrupulous thieves and murders?How should we think about God when cancer strikes a five year old … or a forty-five year old – or an eighty-five year old loved one?

These questions are not new. They plagued the ancient Israelites as they plague us a Christians (or non-Christians) today. The book of Job, if we dig in and think it through, can help us wrestle with these questions. It isn’t a theodicy – “a vindication of divine goodness and providence in view of the existence of evil.”  It isn’t history, providing us with an example of a righteous man (or with an image of a God who makes wagers with Satan). It is wisdom literature in the form of story (with some rather long and sometimes boring dialog) designed to help us think about God.

Continue reading

Posted in Job | Tagged ,

Days of Creation: Occurrence or Observance?

Now we get to the central hypothesis of Michael LeFebvre in his book, The Liturgy of Creation. The creation week of Genesis 1-2:3 is a culturally situated historical calendar narrative designed to lead God’s people in God’s ways. LeFebvre writes:

Genesis 1:1-2:3 provides a narration of creation events, but the timing and details of its telling are transparently “re-mapped” to the cadence and themes of Israel’s weekly sabbath festival. The purpose of the narrative is not simply to teach the people what happened but to teach them how to remember God’s work and God’s rest through their own weekly labors and worship. (pp. 113-114)

LeFebvre aims to call us to “engagement with the creation narrative as a metronome for faithful stewardship in God’s image (the first six days) and communion in his presence (the seventh day).” (p. 114)

The creation week of Genesis 1 is portrayed as a week of 6 24 hour days followed by a seventh 24 hour day. In this the literalist is correct. However, the purpose of the text is not to relate details of the occurrence of creation. This follows from the general case that LeFebvre has been building concerning the purpose of dated narratives in the Pentateuch. Genesis 1, like the specific dates in the exodus account are intended to guide the people in life and worship through observance rather than recount details of occurrence.

Continue reading

Posted in Genesis | Tagged | 2 Comments

Pentateuch or Torah

The first five books of the Bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy, are often referred to as the Pentateuch, literally five books or five scrolls. More importantly, however, they are referred to as the Torah or the law. Michael LeFebvre outlines the importance of this designation in chapter six of his book, The Liturgy of Creation. It is not that the books contain the law, as though the designation torah was restricted to the specific regulations laid down (you shall not murder, you shall not steal etc.). Rather the five books in all their complexity as a whole comprise the law.

This is important. Although the books of the Pentateuch relate a history, the purpose is legal rather than historical. LeFebvre explains:

Normally, a historical narrative is written to tell us what happened in the past. But as part of Israel’s Torah, the narratives of the Pentateuch have an anticipatory purpose. They are histories bout the past told in a manner to instruct audiences in the present and the future. Every historical narrative in the Bible has instructional value (1 Cor 10:11), but the narratives in the Pentateuch – as Torah narratives – provide a more precise, technical kind of instruction. They participate in the legal guidance of ancient Israel, by which we mean instruction in the rituals, institutions, and regulations that defined Israel as an ordered kingdom. The historical narratives of the Torah are more than models of faith (though they certainly are that; see Heb 11:1-31). They are legal definitions of the various institutions and regulations of ancient Israel in story form. (p. 96)

Continue reading

Posted in Bible | Tagged | 1 Comment

Reading Job

The book of Job is a truly amazing part of Scripture. The book strikes me as one of the most significant, misunderstood, and under appreciated, books in the entire Bible. I’ve turned to it many times over the last 8 or 9  years, since I first read the book through in its entirety – both the boring speeches and the more exciting parts. Quite frankly, it overturned many of my preconceptions about God and about the nature of Scripture as the word of God. Although it has been offered as a guide to those in the midst of suffering, it doesn’t really work well for one who is actually suffering. It is a bit too cerebral and detached. It works better as a preparation for the times of suffering that come inevitably to all of us sooner or later.

Lately I’ve been drawn to the book once again, thinking about everything that is going on in our world. Uncertainty rules as we don’t really know what tomorrow will bring. For a guide to Job, I generally turn to two commentaries, one by Tremper Longman III (Job (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms)) and one by John Walton (Job (The NIV Application Commentary)) as well as a much shorter popular book they teamed up to write How to Read Job. This time through I have yet a third commentary, The entry on Job by August H. Konkel in Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Cornerstone Biblical Commentary).

Today we will turn to the introduction to the book provided by Walton and Longman in Part One of How to Read Job. I’ve posted on this before and what follows is an edited version of that post. The book of Job is not history and it is not, actually, about Job. Both Walton and Longman agree that the book of Job is about God and the way God runs the world. They argue that two major questions drive the book. First: Is it good policy for God to bless the righteous? Blessing the righteous just buys pseudo-loyalty doesn’t it? And second, Is it it just when God allows righteous people to suffer?

Continue reading

Posted in Job | Tagged | 2 Comments