Hebrew History II: Period of Beginnings (Genesis 1-12)

From the Creation to Abraham
Gen 1-12

Hebrews 2a:  Introduction to Beginnings.
  1. The Extent of This Period.

There are seven periods of Old Testament history. The first of these is known as the Period of Beginnings. It starts with the creation of the world and extends to the time of Abraham 1900 B.C. – 1800 B.C. The records of this period include the accounts of the creation of all things; the first family; the Temptation and Fall of man; the experiences of Cain, Abel and Seth; the work of Noah; and the tower of Babel.

  1. The Nature of Bible History.

In these studies we are assuming that the history found in the Old Testament is genuine history. The Old Testament contains narratives, essays, addresses, proverbs and poetry. These writings furnish information on the lives of great leaders, on the political, social, economic and religious life of the Hebrew people, and of surrounding nations also. Particularly in the book of Genesis we have much historical material which is found nowhere else. Without these revealing accounts we would know practically nothing of the early history of mankind. When we study these books of the Old Testament we are dealing with authentic historical documents of great significance.

The Old Testament, while throwing light upon the history of other early races, is particularly concerned with the history of the Hebrew people. It is devoted to the giving of leading facts in their life as a nation, beginning with their origin and continuing to the period just preceding the birth of Christ. The facts related in these Old Testament books constitute the only record of the Hebrew people as a nation.  In dealing with the Old Testament as history we shall find that it differs from ordinary history. The writers are not particularly concerned with the usual facts of history such as military, political, economic and social forces. They are not attempting to present a chronological account, giving in detail a record of their achievements in these areas. These matters appear to be incidental. The chief concern of the writers in the Old Testament is the religious life of Old Testament peoples. They are interested in the progress of man’s effort to comprehend God and the ever-enlarging revelation of God to men. This emphasis on religion is discernible in every part of the Old Testament. For example, the writer of 2 Sam 8:1-11 tells in a few sentences of David’s conquest of seven surrounding nations. while the same writer uses several chapters to tell of David’s great sin and its disastrous consequences for David and the nation. The student may find numerous other illustrations of this principle.

  1. Period of Beginnings.

This first period of Old Testament history is appropriately called the time of beginnings. It is the beginning of the physical universe, of the human race, of sin and its consequences, of God’s plan of redemption, of the family and of the Sabbath. The very name Genesis means beginning. This book is divided into two general sections: (1) Chapters 1-11, which contains the accounts of the creation, the temptation and the fall of man, the flood, and the tower of Babel. These chapters serve as an introduction not only to the Bible and Hebrew history, but also to the history of the human race. (2) Chapters 12-50 which begins the story of Abraham and his descendants, is chiefly concerned with the history of the Hebrew people.

Hebrews 2b:  Creation, Temptation, and the Fall (Genesis 1-3)
  1. Importance of These Early Chapters.

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of these first chapters of Genesis. For the past century the scientific method has steadily increased in favor until now it practically overshadows all others and all but dominates our thought. During this past century the first three chapters of Genesis have been critically examined and studied to a degree not true of any other document ever written. Some scholars have sought to discredit these accounts by showing that they are inconsistent with the views held by modern scientists. Other scholars have approached them with the sincere purpose of discovering the truth, with the desire to gain a better understanding of their content. Millions of people have read and reread these classic accounts with a growing appreciation of their value and importance. These chapters are important because they are the only orderly, consistent and valid account we have of the beginnings of our world. We should recognize the fact that without these we should not have a basis of philosophy or theology. Practically every great theological doctrine can be traced directly back to the Genesis account of the creation, the Temptation and the Fall of man.

  1. Not a Scientific Account.

The crucial question in the minds of many students is, Are the teachings of Gen 1-3 consistent with the findings of modern science? To begin with, we should recognize the fact that the writer of these chapters was not concerned with science as we understand it. He knew nothing of our scientific approach or method, and hence was not concerned with it. He certainly was not attempting to produce a detailed account which centuries later might be said to be correct or incorrect judged by the scientific method. It is both improper and unfair to take statements made by this writer centuries ago, put them over against scientific views now held, and attempt to determine whether the Genesis account is true or false. In this connection it should he said that no real scientist will claim that he now knows the whole truth. The conclusions of the scientists are constantly changing. A textbook in any of the material sciences which is up to date now will be out of date ten years hence. The writer of these accounts was concerned not with the scientific but with the religious emphasis. He was interested in God’s part in the creation of the universe. In this first chapter of Genesis the expression “and God” is found thirty times. Indeed almost every sentence in the chapter is a statement of what God did or said. The writer does not specify the method or process used in the creation of the world. To him the important fact is that the eternal God is the sole creator. Matter is not eternal, God alone is eternal. God is not confined to the universe; He is over all and in all.

  1. Form of the Story.

As a literary production Gen 1-3 is a classic. The form in which is it presented is important. “For conciseness, concreteness, picturesqueness and beauty, and for naturalness of method the story of creation is not excelled in all literature. In six brief, beautiful paragraphs it shows how God, as a creative Spirit, acting through successive periods, prepared the world for the residence of man and put him in it. The record then returns to the story of the creation of man, with whom God is especially concerned, and gives more in detail the facts concerning his creation, condition, duties and blessings, along with the danger to which he was exposed.

The first chapter has the rhythm of a great poem with the same refrain at the close of each stanza (verses 5,8,13,19,23,31). It describes an orderly progress of creation according to the will and word of God, and, in beautiful language, shows how the whole universe finds its explanation in God. It is especially a poem about God and His works. The four great verses of the chapter are verses 1,27,28, and 31. They describe, or declare, the creative power and work of God, man’s likeness to God, his place in the created universe and the perfection of God’s work. Those are put at the very beginning of the narrative and furnish a good start for all religious thinking.”  This first chapter is really a magnificent religious poem declaring God to be the creator of all things.

  1. Unanswerable Questions.

In the study of these chapters many interesting questions will arise for the thoughtful student. When did the creation take place? What process was used in creating the universe and man? Were these “days” periods of twenty-four hours as today, or were they longer periods? Did Satan appear in person? Where was the Garden of Eden? Why did the tempter appear to Eve rather than to Adam? All such questions are interesting, but are not essential to an understanding of the events. It is impossible to answer some of these. The answers to others are matters of opinion.

  1. Order of Creation.

The Genesis account of the creation is concise and orderly. Six creative “days” are given specifying what was created each day. (1) Light was created and divided from darkness. (2) The firmament or atmosphere surrounding the earth was made. (3) Water and land were separated and the earth was covered with vegetation. (4) The sun, moon, and stars were made to give light upon the earth. (5) Marine life, and winged fowl were created. (6) Land animals, and man were created.  While the author (H. I. Hester in the Heart of Hebrew History)  of this account was not concerned with scientific precision, it is remarkable how his account corresponds in general to the modern scientific view. Lower forms of life were created first. The order is progressive reaching its climax in the creation of man.

  1. Creation of Man.

It is to be noted that in all instances, except in the creation of man, God simply spoke and these other things came into being. But with man it was different. “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth.” (Gen 1:26) “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Gen 2:7.)

  1. Dignity and Superiority of Man.

Man was created last and is superior to all other creatures. He was made a living soul, created in God’s image. Man’s likeness to God is not in his physical being (limbs, eyes, ears, etc.) for “God is a spirit.” Man is like God in intellectual, moral and spiritual qualities. Made after God’s likeness man is endowed above all other creatures. He alone has intelligence. He is to keep company with God, to have fellowship with Him. He is to “multiply and replenish the earth” and to subdue it. He is to “have dominion over all other creatures.” To man is entrusted the great responsibility of working with God as his intelligent agent in his eternal purposes for man and the world.

  1. The First Home.

To the first man Eve was given as a “help-meet,” or companion. They were to be husband and wife on a basis of equality. This was the first home and was based on the institution of marriage. Monogamy was unquestionably the ideal, even though in later times men departed from this ideal and practiced polygamy. Husband and wife were to meet the needs of each other. In this institution God has provided the ideal plan for the propagation of the race. The coming of children was desired and expected. Husband and wife were to provide the home, the ideal situation for the nurture and training of children. The home was thus the first institution of society; first in time and in importance.

  1. Dignity of Work.

Adam and Eve were given a home, or a “garden” in which to live. Adam was commanded by Jehovah “to dress it and to keep it.” Thus work was ordained in the providence of God and is not to be regarded as punishment sent by God upon man for his disobedience. God provided work for man before the Temptation and the Fall, because will be his equal. This argument was subtle and fatal. Eve tasted and ate; she then did the natural and expected thing, namely, to involve Adam in this experience. With the acquiescence of Eve and Adam Satan had accomplished his purpose. Sin had entered the lives of the first human beings.

  1. Sin.

Up to the time of this experience man was in a state of innocence, but his transgression brought a change in his whole nature, in his relation to God and in his condition. Man now appears to have been conscious of his guilt, for he sought unsuccessfully to escape God. The old relationship had been broken. Sin had been committed. Then too, when faced by his sin he, like all men since his time, sought to place the responsibility for his action on some one else. Adam’s defense was “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” Eve likewise, tried to excuse herself saying, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.”

  1. Punishment.

Naturally Adam and Eve must be punished for their transgression. The brief statement of the penalties for their sins were: the serpent was to crawl on its belly and eat the dust of the earth, Eve was forced to occupy a place of subordination to man and of great suffering, Adam was condemned to a life of toil and suffering.

While a full discussion of the consequences of the Fall upon the human race does not lie within the scope of this book we may say that the condition and the destiny of all mankind were involved in this tragic occurrence. This doctrine has been taught by the Christian church through all the centuries of its history. Paul held that the sin of the “First Adam” which affected all men, could be atoned for only by the death of the “Second Adam.”

Naturally, every thoughtful student raises the question: Why should man he tempted? Naturally also there are various answers to this question. There have always been those who declare that this was unfair to man, holding that it was a trap set by God for him. But such was not the case. There was a necessary reason for the temptation. Man was made in the image of God with the priceless privilege of exercising his choice. If man was to be free, and not an automaton, he must have an opportunity for the exercise of the faculty of choice. His choice must bring with it the usual consequences. If he chose wisely and did not sin certain consequences would ensue. If he chose wrongly he must likewise take the consequences. But to be free he must have the opportunity of making a choice. This necessity reflects not the selfish jealousy of God, but his goodness and his desire for man, who is his creature.

  1. Elements of Hope.

Despite the tragic failure of man in this great crisis, with its consequences of pain and punishment, the door of hope was not closed. Man was not forsaken by God, who still loved him despite the sin he had committed. There is a glorious promise of victory to the seed of the woman. (Gen 3:15.) The struggle between the two opposing forces will be long and hard, but victory will ultimately come through one who was a man and yet infinitely more than man.

Hebrews 2c:  From The Fall to Abraham.
  1. Extent of This Period.

The account of events included in this section is to be found in Gen 4-11. Geographically the setting is probably in the valley between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. When the period began is not known since we have no hint of the time of the expulsion from Eden. The period closes some time prior to 1800 B.C. which is the approximate date of Abraham, the great character with whom the next period begins.

  1. Sons of Adam and Eve.

We are told that Cain and Abel, the first sons mentioned in the record, were born to Adam and Eve after their expulsion from Eden. We have but few facts about them. In some respects they were probably as much alike as two brothers usually are. In other respects they were radically different. Cain was jealous and wicked in spirit, while Abel seems to have been generous and reverent. Cain was an agriculturist, Abel a shepherd.  The story of Cain’s slaying his brother Abel, is a familiar one. Abel’s sacrifice to God, made in a spirit of true worship, was acceptable, while that of Cain was not acceptable because it was made in the wrong spirit. Insane with jealously, Cain slew his brother, thus becoming the first murderer known in history.  For this murder God punished Cain by banishing him from his homeland. Cain, overwhelmed by the enormity of his punishment, complained that it was greater than he could bear. Whereupon God extended mercy and protection to him. Cain went to the land of Nod, found a wife and established a race which came to be known for its great energy, enterprise and inventions, but also for polygamy, violence, and murder.

  1. New Beginning With Seth.

After the death of Abel and the banishment of Cain, another son, Seth, was born to Adam and Eve. Through this son the chosen people of God were to come. From this line came the spiritual leaders of Israel. One descendant was Enoch who “walked with God, and he was not, because God took him.” Another was Noah, the preacher of righteousness who built the ark and perpetuated the race.

  1. Longevity of the Patriarchs.

Every reader of these accounts is immediately impressed with the extended age of these early characters. Naturally the student will ask what is the explanation of this. How was it possible for one to live several hundred years? Did Methusaleh actually attain the age of 969 years? Various scholars have suggested some possible explanations of this interesting problem. (1) Some hold that the name used, Lamech for example, refers in these cases not to an individual but to a family or a tribe. (2) Others feel that the word “year” as used here did not mean a period of twelve months as with us, but referred to the lunar month. Thus Methusaleh’s age 969 years should be divided by thirteen, which would give his real age. (3) Still other scholars insist that in this early period man’s body was stronger and that it was expected that he should live longer; a shorter span of life was the result of dissipation and sin. These explanations may or may not be of value, but at any rate they are interesting.

  1. Career of Noah.

The wickedness of this early civilization was great. “The earth was full of violence.” (Gen 6:11.) “And Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented Jehovah that he had made man on the earth and it grieved him at his heart.” (Gen 6:5-6.)  Noah, a teacher of righteousness, was to be the agent of God in his dealings with this wicked civilization. Noah alone was a good and faithful man among all these wicked people. All his efforts in calling men to repent were in vain. Sterner measures were necessary so God announced to Noah his purpose to destroy the world by a great flood. He commanded him to build an ark by which he and his wife, his three sons and their wives and all the different species of animal life, would be spared. When they were safe inside, the door of the ark was closed by God himself and then came the floods of water from heaven above and from the fountains of the deep. For forty days and nights the flood continued until the earth was covered. The Bible account does not give any details of the terrible struggle of the people outside the ark in this dreadful disaster. One must use imagination to gain any conception of the horrible experiences caused by the flood, when the waters reached the top of the mountains and every living creature except those in the ark died.

For long months the ark floated on the waters covering the land. At last it was grounded on Mt. Ararat. After another period of waiting while the waters assuaged Noah sent forth a raven and a dove to determine the state of the flood waters. When the waters had receded his first act was to offer to the Lord worthy sacrifices of “every clean beast and of every clean fowl” saved by the ark. God then promised Noah that never again should the earth be destroyed by flood waters. The rainbow was given to him and his family as a pledge of this promise. A notable covenant was then made between God and his servant Noah. Thus the human race made a new start. This time it should have improved; they should have learned to “abhor that which is evil, and to cleave to that which is good.” But again the results were disappointing. Sin and wickedness were not yet conquered. Even Noah himself was guilty of drunkenness, and his younger son committed grievous sins.  Scholars today differ widely on the question of the origin of various races. While such studies have their value it may be that unanimity of opinion cannot he reached. History reveals the fact that the lot of certain races has been exceedingly unfortunate. Among Christians everywhere today, however, there is a growing concern that all races be given the rights and privileges to which they are entitled.

  1. Tower of Babel.

The story of the Tower of Babel is an interesting one, but still has elements of mystery in it. For example, scholars do not agree as to the reason for the building of this tower. However, in Gen 11:4 the writer seems to indicate that its purpose was to make a great name for men and to keep them from being dispersed over the earth. To keep the command of God “to multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” required arduous work, living in far distant areas, enduring the hardships of the pioneer. It was far easier and more desirable to live amid the benefits of civilization. This sin offended God and must be punished. Their proud structure was never completed, for God confused their hitherto common speech and scattered them abroad, to begin nations in different parts of the earth.

  1. Commercial and Cultural Life.

We have no detailed record of the beginnings of civilization, but we know that there were two great empires of antiquity, Babylonia and Egypt . Which of these was the earlier we cannot tell. For many centuries before Abraham these two empires flourished, one on the banks of the Euphrates, and the other in the valley of the Nile. Archaeologists are certain that their discoveries in these areas go back as far as 4000 B.C. Babylonian civilization seems to have reached its climax in the reign of Hammurabi, some nineteen hundred years before Christ.   The earliest records introduce Egypt to us as a full-grown empire. When and how it originated and developed we do not know. The pyramids and other Egyptian monuments reveal the amazing faculty of early Egyptians for erecting stone structures and buildings. What tools and devices were used by the Egyptians as early as 3000 B.C. in cutting and placing huge stones with such precision in these pyramids? Certainly they knew much of mathematics and astronomy and other sciences. They had a well developed system of culture and learning. They had a well organized government which dated back centuries before the time of Abraham.

In these early empires sculptors, masons, miners, potters, jewelers and other workmen were well advanced in their art. They seemed to have been organized into unions or guilds! Great commercial enterprises flourished, with merchants and bankers doing business on an international basis. Goods were transported over sea and land. The Phoenicians on the northeast shore of the Mediterranean as early as 3000 B.C. were sending their ships westward out of the Mediterranean into the Atlantic along the shores of Africa, and probably as far distant as the British Isles. In recent years archaeologists have been so impressed by the great similarity of discoveries in Central America with ancient Egyptian life that some are of the opinion that Egyptian ships may have crossed the Atlantic and left on the western hemisphere some of the evidences of their great culture many centuries before the Christian era. Certainly the peoples of the Biblical world were advanced in cultural and commercial life before Abraham came on the scene.  While we do not know the origin of writing we do know there were great libraries with dictionaries and other writings extensively used. These were written in cuneiform , the Babylonian script, which was practically a universal language, thus making a unity of language and culture for this early period.

  1. Archaeological Items.

There are a number of pertinent archaeological items belonging to this period of beginnings in Bible history.  The Mesopotamian documents dealing with the creation and the flood were brought to light by Rawlinson and others 1852-1854. They were found at Ashurbanipal and were in cuneiform script. Altogether we now have some five or six accounts dealing with the creation and the flood: (1) The Semitic-Babylonian version of the Epic of Creation made up of seven tablets. (2) The Sippar Tablet in two languages. (3) The Gilgamesh Epic consisting of 12 tablets. (4) The Nippur Tablet discovered by the University of Pennsylvania. (5) A number of smaller tablets found at various places.  The discovery and translation of these tablets produced a sensation among Bible students. There are certainly very obvious similarities between the Biblical accounts of the creation and the flood and these tablets. Naturally we cannot enter here any discussion of this involved problem. Suffice it to say that these discoveries are extremely significant. The relations existing between the tablets and the Bible narratives indicate ancestral connections, or points of contact which cannot be brushed aside or explained away as of no consequence.”   So far archaeologists have found no document resembling the account of the Tower of Babel, though the Ziggurats of ancient Babylon are most suggestive. A pyramidical temple discovered in old Mexico is strikingly similar to the description of the ancient Tower of Babel. There are quite a number of traditions of the Fall of man . Four fragments of the Adapa myth dealing with this have been found. In these there are certain similarities with the Bible account as for example, Adam and Eve are tempted “to become like God knowing good and evil.” However, there are very radical dissimilarities. Whatever may be the early connection between these Adapa tablets and the Genesis account the record of these tablets is striking and provocative.




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