BEMA 7: The Preface
14 Apr 22 — Initial public release
11 Mar 22 — Transcript approved for release
Brent Billings: This is the BEMA podcast with Marty Solomon. I’m his co-host, Brent Billings. In this episode, we look back over the first 11 chapters of Genesis and work to understand their significance to the greater narrative of the scriptures. Just a heads up for everyone listening. There is a presentation that goes along with this episode, episode seven. If you are listening at home, we hope you just open that right up.
If you are out walking about, we really appreciate that you are taking the time that you could listen to any of a million other podcasts and you choose to listen to ours. To show our respect to you, I’m going to try to describe what Marty’s looking at to enhance your experience, but if you get a chance, please take a look at the PDF. Marty, let’s get started.
Marty Solomon: No new stories in this brief episode, but I wanted to take a moment to look back over these first 11 chapters and try to understand what it is that we’re trying to do in this study and where we’re headed. Maybe if we’re right at all about any of these hunches, if I’m right at all about any of my hunches, to try to talk about what the authors of Genesis are doing with what they’re writing out here.
First slide here in our presentation, I just wanted to lay out the way I see the narrative. If God’s story, if the scriptures were a large story, really, the body of the narrative and the body of the story sits in between Exodus and Revelation. Starting in Exodus, going all the way to the end of the scriptures, you have the narrative of God, and we’ll talk about this a lot more and a lot more detail later. The book of Genesis is all the prep work to this narrative.
Now, Genesis 1 through 11 ends up being, what I like to call, the preface to that story. If you’re reading a brand new fantasy series, oftentimes you’re going to run into some kind of a preface because what you’re doing is you’re entering into a world that is different than the one that you understand. The author has to take you into this narrative and introduce, not just characters, but the author has to introduce brand new concepts. He has to tell you about this world, and your parameters of your understanding are going to change. That’s what happens in the preface.
Then, oftentimes, these stories might even have an introduction. This is where you’re going to get introduced to the characters. It’s going to set up the plot of the narrative. That’s where your setup’s going to happen. That’s where the stage is going to be set. That’s going to be where you get introduced to some of those characters. You’re going to see that in Genesis 12 through 50. I believe if you look at the scriptures, even in the English — it’s really obvious in the Hebrew — if you look at it in the English, I believe you can tell that you’re seeing a different genre of literature when you go from Genesis 1 through 11, and then you leap into the story of Abraham. The whole genre of literature changes.
What Genesis 1 through 11 is doing is taking, as we’ve seen in our other podcasts up to this point, Genesis 1 through 11 is taking stories that they’re incredibly familiar with, folklore or folk stories, and the author, or the authors are changing, subverting these stories, tweaking these stories, adjusting these stories in such a way that it completely changes your fundamental understanding of the world.
These are creation myths. These are the stories of ancient stories of the flood. This is where you base your understanding of the world and the author here is subverting all those stories and inviting you to reframe what you think about the world. “You thought the world was this way, but in Genesis 1 through 11, I’m inviting you to see the world in a whole new way.”
We’re just about ready to leave this preface and get into the introduction. We’re just about ready to go from Genesis 11 and start stepping into Genesis 12 in the story of Abram, or Abraham, as we like to call it. Before we do, I wanted to look back and try to really get a grasp of what the author was trying to accomplish when they wrote this. I’m going to jump into our diagram that we have here to try to explain what it is we’re looking at.
If we were to go through the stories, we’d map out probably eight different sections here of Genesis 1 through 11. First of all, you’ve got Genesis 1 and the story of creation. The next story would be Genesis 2 and 3, and that would be the story of Adam and Eve. Genesis 4 is the story of Cain and Abel. The next section is a genealogy that sits in Genesis 5 and outside that, but Genesis 5 ends up being this genealogy. Then you go to Genesis 6 through 9A, essentially the first part of 9, that would be Noah’s arc. A couple of podcasts ago, we looked at Noah’s curse in Genesis 9B through chapter 10.
Then the first little bit of Genesis 11 was the Tower of Babel. That’s going to be followed by another genealogy in the last half of Genesis 11. We end up having these eight stories. On this diagram here, we’ve got these eight columns and we want to walk through these stories as we see them and see if we see anything emerge. The first story I’d look at would be Genesis 1.
If we just walk through this, we’ll deal with each column on its own, Genesis 1. One of the things that we noticed that Genesis 1 had problems, there were all kinds of problems in Genesis 1. We talked about how Genesis 1 was a chiasm. We talked about how Genesis 1 was about a good creation. We talked about how Genesis 1 was about a God who knew when to stop creating. Genesis 1 was about a God who knew when to stop creating. Essentially this story is about rest, knowing how to stop, knowing how to enter God’s rest.
That led us into story number two, Genesis 2 and 3, Adam and Eve. Again, we had problems with this story. Again, we had a chiasm on our hands. We found out with the nakedness, and instead of a story of a good creation, this time, we had a tragedy that ensued. A tragedy ensued because they didn’t know how to stop. Instead of knowing how to stop, they became obsessed with their own creativity, in a sense, you could say. They became obsessed with trying to possess more and acquire more, however you would want to phrase that. Instead of knowing when to stop, they became obsessed with their desire. Then instead of finding a place of rest, they demonstrated mistrust of the story.
Instead of trusting God’s story of Genesis 1, they mistrusted it, which leads us into the third story. Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. Again, we had problems. We had problems in the story that led us into the deeper levels of that story. While we didn’t talk about it on the podcast, we did deal with it in discussion groups about how Cain and Abel is yet another chiasm. We talked about, obviously, it’s a tragedy. Just like Adam and Eve, and there are many parallels connecting to Cain and Abel.
We looked at some of them, Cain and Abel and Adam and Eve, but one of those with larger concepts is instead of it being a good story about a good creation, it’s a tragedy. Again because instead of knowing how to stop, they become obsessed. Cain becomes obsessed with acquiring more, having more, doing more. He sees Abel as a threat to his own activity. We’re seeing a lot of parallels here. Again, this is a story, not about rest, but a story about mistrust.
Then we have a genealogy. And then, our next story, Noah’s Ark and the flood. Again, we’re seeing a pattern. We have problems in the story that lead us into the deeper layers of the story. Again, we’re going to see a chiasm, which is what Kevin, who was with us that day, helped us find. Then we’re going to see God’s reaffirmation of the goodness of creation. It’s going to be another story about the goodness of creation, another story where God says, “This is a good creation.” I want to say, it’s unlike the gods of Gilgamesh, unlike the gods of the stories that they’re familiar with. This God comes to Noah and wants to save creation by partnering with him to do that.
It’s God’s affirmation of a good creation, and he knows when to stop. This is another story where God knows when to stop. Just like Genesis 1, God knows when to stop destroying. The first time he knew when to stop creating. This time, he knows when to stop destroying. The story ends with finding rest. No more will man have to worry about the destruction of God. No more, so there’s this place of rest, leading us into Noah’s curse.
Again, we had problems. Why does Ham get cursed, or why does Ham not get cursed? Why does Canaan get cursed? All kinds of problems in that story, and this is the chiasm I’m probably the least familiar with, but it’s in there. You can find the concepts. I just haven’t nailed down all of the details on this one, but the chiasm is there. Instead of having a good story about a good creation, we have another story of tragedy because Noah is obsessed with destruction. Instead of knowing when to stop destroying, Noah wants to take out his vengeance on his children. Of course, it’s a story about mistrust, leading us, finally, to the tower of Babel in Genesis 11A, where we have problems.
We had another chiasm, this time built off of the Hebrew consonants of the story. We have a tragedy that ensues with the people being scattered all over the earth because of their obsession with making a name for themself, very, very reminiscent of the of Cain and Abel, and obviously, a story of mistrust and Genesis 11B being another genealogy. Now, I don’t know if you’re looking at this, Brent, if you happen to, I don’t know. Do you see anything going on here?
Brent: Well, we’ve got these eight columns. The fourth and eighth columns are genealogies and those suckers stick out like a sore thumb on this little graph. Then in the other six columns, you have across the board, you have problems and you have chiasms. Then in the first and fifth, you have a good creation, a good element of the story. You have someone who knows when to stop, in this case, God, and then you have a creation that finds rest at the end. Then in the other four columns, instead of the goodness, and the knowing when to stop and the rest, you have tragedy and obsession and mistrust.
Marty: You’re pointing out a whole bunch of patterns here. If I understand you correctly.
Brent: There’s patterns coming out of our ears.
Marty: So many patterns. So when you see patterns, if we’ve caught onto anything by this point, what things do you ask?
Brent: It seems like there’s got to be a chiasm.
Marty: It seems like we got a chiasm.
Brent: We already know we got chiasms in every one of these stories.
Marty: Wouldn’t it be weird if we had a chiasm made up of chiasms, like all these chiasms forming a larger chasm? My head starts to explode. I can tell you this. When I first started teaching BEMA, just over five years ago, with college students, I wasn’t even aware of this. I was aware of all the small chiasms, and I was trying to draw the… I was putting this similar diagram on a whiteboard and I was trying to explain to my first few students, there were only two or three at WSU, at Washington State University, at this point.
One of my students — his name was Paris Shewey — I’m putting them up on this board, and I’m trying to explain some of the patterns. Paris says, “Oh, so you’re saying Genesis 1 through 11 is chiastic?” I was like, “No, Paris, you’re not paying attention. I’m telling you all the small stories are chiastic…” and somewhere in the middle of that sentence where I’m just so frustrated like, “Oh man, do you just not get it?” it clicks and I turn around and look at the board and I’m like, “Oh my goodness. It’s chiastic!” Because what you have, and I’m going to go to the next slide on our presentation here, all of these stories are calling back to their representative. Story five calls back to story one, six calls back to two, seven calls back to three, and eight calls back to four. It’s very reminiscent of Genesis 1 and the creation narrative.
If I were to go to the next slide, you’re going to see the A, B, C, D, A B, C, D nature, where a lot of the chiasms we’ve been seeing have been A, B, C, D, D C, B, A. This is the flip chiasm. This is not an inverted parallelism, this is a chiastic parallelism. There’s definitely a chiasm here without a doubt and I was so frustrated I didn’t see that before Paris pointed it out to me. And so once we’ve — and this one’s really fun to see because it’s just right in front of us — but if we’ve got a chiasm, what is the next question that you want to know, Brent?
Brent: What is the center of it?
Marty: What’s the center of it, and this is what I was doing. When Paris mentioned it this day, I immediately started thinking in my head like, “Well, what is the verse going to be at the center of the chiasm? When I went there, if you go to…
Brent: Oh, this is, this is great, because this is what the rabbis live for. This is what they’re trying to do for all of their students, is bring them to this point of discovery. In this case, it was flipped around and the student brought the rabbi to the point of discovery, but I would’ve loved to be in the room.
Marty: Brilliant. It was fantastic because that was exactly what it was. I realized what the center verse of the chiasm was going to be, and so we pulled it out. Here it is, Genesis 5:28 through 29. It’s on the next slide there of your presentation. When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son, he named him Noah and said, he will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the grounds the Lord has cursed. He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the grounds the Lord has cursed. And in the center of that verse, the name of Noah, and so Noah…
Actually, if you go to the next slide in our presentation, the name Noah means “he rests,” which is just brilliant because this whole story started off with a story about Shabbat. The whole thing, Genesis 1, was a story about resting in the goodness of creation. Here in the center of the chiasm, that is Genesis 1 through 11, that is the preface sits a verse about a man whose name means he rests and it’s the same man that’s going to save all of creation.
There is this really definite hint in the preface, that if you are willing to trust the story, if you’re willing to be somebody that can find that place of rest and not become obsessed with your own creativity, obsessed with your own fears, obsessed with your own insecurities, obsessed with the threats of broken relationships and the people around you, and if you can learn how to be like God, and to stop, and know when to say enough. If you can know when to stop creating, if you can know when to stop destroying, well, God’s going to be able to use you to save all of creation. He’s going to be able to use you to put the story back together. You’re going to be this great partner for Him.
I just love that part of the preface, but so when we look back over this whole thing, we realize this — just a few observations I would make on the next few slides here. On the next slide, the story is good. We’ve said that a bunch of times, but now looking at this diagram and understanding the preface as a whole package, hopefully, it becomes even more crystal clear. The author or authors here of Genesis, however you want to look at it, are pretty adamant here. Pretty adamant that the story is good, and we can trust it.
In fact, it’s going to be essential to moving creation forward. It’s going to be essential to the redemption and the restoration of creation. If we’re not going to trust, we’re going to pull the world further apart. If we’re going to live in fear and insecurity and let those things rule the day, the world’s going to fall apart. It’s going to end in tragedy every single time, but if we can find a place of rest by trusting in the things that God tells us is true, we’re going to be onto something. I think it’s really important before we move on to Abraham to pause and to look back and go, I think the Bible, I think God is serious about this message. I think the authors are serious about this message.
God knows when to say enough, and we can follow in his footsteps, and we’ve seen what happens when we don’t. I would also say this on the next slide, the brilliant design of the scriptures, the brilliant design of the scriptures, like when you look at this stuff, there is no human being that could have done this on their own. To quote a joke from Rob Bell: It’s almost as if people had help. It’s almost as if these authors weren’t working on their own power alone, because, how do you do this on your own? I’m not sure how you do, and for many scholars, they’ve suggested that there are multiple authors in Torah.
I’m not going to come down and tell you what you got to believe there, but it’s definitely the prevalent idea. As I’ve looked at that, I think there’s definitely some credence there. I see multiple authors at work in Genesis. I think Moses is one that probably gave the teaching. I’ll give him all the credit, I’ll give him all the traditional authority, but we probably have multiple authors at work as far as writing down the story, and here’s the thing about that: If there are multiple authors to Genesis, this is even more impressive. This is more impressive because it all fits together like this.
You can’t have multiple authors work on this project and put this thing together like this, this is unbelievable. I just become really, really impressed with the fingerprints of God that are all over the text here. Then just a closing thought as we close out this discussion here: you are being invited to reframe your understanding of reality. The audience of Genesis, thousands of years ago, was being invited to reframe what they thought was most true about the world.
I believe for each and every one of us, as readers of the scriptures, the invitation is extended to us as well. We are being invited to reframe what we think is most fundamentally true about the world we live in. What is the world like? Who is God? Who are we? How does God feel about His creation? I think our knee-jerk responses have to be questioned here. They have to be put on the stand and tried because there’s something going on here that I think changes the way we understand the world and it definitely changes the way we read the scriptures. Anyway, that’s the preface.
Brent: Sounds very good. It’s quite a foundation that we are building on here.
Marty: Yes, I love, love Genesis 1 through 11. It really sets the stage for us to look at the rest of the Scriptures in a whole new way. I think we’ve gotten used to just reading the scripture. I think we know what we’re looking for when we go into the Text. I think we say, “Oh yes. The story of Abraham. I know what that’s all about,” and what the preface does is it says, “No, you don’t.” We’re going to ask a whole other set of questions because of what we believe is fundamentally true about the world when we meet Abraham. Anyway, that’s what I like.
Brent: Well, and you talk about the brilliant design of the scriptures, whether Genesis is working with multiple authors or not, the entire Scriptures are certainly multiple authors and yet you see the thread of this story throughout the entire Bible.
Marty: This is going to be through the entire narrative arc.
Brent: We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, but this is a great place to start.
Marty: Absolutely, essential.
Brent: If you live on the Palouse, we hope you join us for discussion groups in Moscow on Tuesday or in Pullman on Wednesday. If you want to get a hold of Marty, you can find him on Twitter at @martysolomon. You can find me on Twitter at @eibcb. You can find more details about the show at bemadiscipleship.com. Thanks for joining us on the BEMA podcast, and we’ll talk to you again soon.